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Touch-screen votes give county a daunting task

By Scott North
Everett  Herald Writer   04 December 2004

No matter who comes out on top in the statewide hand recount in the governor's race, the story in Snohomish County will be told in paper.

Lots of paper.

Enough paper to keep a squad of computer printers churning for five straight days. Enough to lay a paper trail stretching from Everett to Edmonds.

"It's going to be a long, long process," county election supervisor Carolyn Diepenbrock said Friday.

Before the recount can begin here, election officials must first print out paper ballots to record the more than 96,200 votes that were cast on Nov. 2 using touch-screen computer voting machines, Diepenbrock said.

Each vote was recorded on electronic data cartridges, technology that makes it quick to tally the votes by machine.

A hand recount - that's another story.

Starting Wednesday, election officials plan to begin downloading the data to create a computer file for each ballot, saved in the standard portable document format, or pdf, Diepenbrock said.

The ballots will then be printed out, each on its own sheet of 81/2- by 11-inch paper.

"We are going to have five different computers with five printers, and they are going to be printing for five days," Diepenbrock said.

The county Auditor's Office estimates it will churn through 20 cases of paper to create hard-copy ballots of all the votes cast on touch-screen machines. Laid end to end, all those printouts would stretch 16.7 miles. Stacked, they would form a tower about three stories tall.

Only Yakima County, which also uses touch-screen machines, will face a similar, but smaller, printing job, Diepenbrock said.

The Auditor's Office plans to begin on Dec. 15 its hand recount of the nearly 292,000 votes cast by Snohomish County voters in the gubernatorial race. In addition to the computer ballots, the recount will include all mail-in ballots.

The certified election results show Republican Dino Rossi carried the county with a 6,483-vote lead over Democrat Christine Gregoire.

The hand recount will be conducted precinct-by-precinct by two-person teams; one Democrat, one Republican.

The pair must first sort the ballots cast in each precinct into stacks for each candidate. They must agree on the exact number of votes for Rossi and Gregoire before moving on to count other precincts, Diepenbrock said.

If everything goes according to plan, the hand recount will be certified by Dec. 22. However, Diepenbrock isn't convinced the results will be any more accurate than those tabulated by machine.

"Humans make errors, and as soon as you put a human element into any sort of process, the potential for error goes up," she said

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