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Two counties face task of tallying touch-screen votes

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS   04 December 2004

Most counties bracing for a statewide hand recount of the governor's race have boxes upon boxes full of ballots.

Not Snohomish and Yakima counties, the only two in Washington where people voted on touch-screen computers.

Before their recounts can begin, Snohomish and Yakima counties will have to print out paper ballots to record tens of thousands of votes cast at the polls Nov. 2 on the computer-voting machines.

"It's going to be a long, long process," Carolyn Diepenbrock, Snohomish County's election supervisor, told The (Everett) Herald.

Secretary of State Sam Reed certified Republican Dino Rossi as governor-elect Nov. 30, after he came out 42 votes ahead of Democrat Christine Gregoire in a statewide machine recount. That second count was required under state law when Rossi had a 261-vote margin of victory after counties certified their first count in mid-November.  
Democrats ponied up a $730,000 down payment Friday for a second recount, this one by hand. It will begin next week and should wrap up by Dec. 23, barring any legal challenges.

Snohomish County has to print out more than 96,000 ballots to record the votes of those who turned out at the polls on Election Day. Yakima County will have fewer ballots to print, since it had about one-quarter as many participating voters.

Each touch-screen vote was recorded on electronic data cartridges, technology that speeds up machine counting. A hand recount is another story.

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

The ballots will then be printed out, each on its own sheet of 8 1/2- 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.

In all, Snohomish County has to recount 292,000 votes cast in the gubernatorial race, most of them mail-in ballots. Yakima County has to recount about 72,000 votes total.

Rossi carried both counties, by a 21,309-vote margin in Yakima and by 6,483 votes in Snohomish.

Diepenbrock said she isn't convinced the hand recount will be more accurate than the machine recount.

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

The hand count is expected to cost the Democratic Party more than $1 million. Citing concerns about the accuracy of the machine recount, Democrats say a manual tally is the only way to be certain who won the election.

Rossi called the effort "desperate."

"How much do they want to put the voters of Washington through?" he said after Democrats announced they had the money to pay for the recount. "We were elected and certified twice. I have faith in voters."


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