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Local Angle: Auditor confident of accurate tally

Saturday, December 4, 2004
By DON JENKINS, The Columbian 

Wandering minds make counting ballots by hand "inherently less reliable" than a machine count, but safeguards are in place to get the tally right in Clark County, Auditor Greg Kimsey said Friday.

    "Machines don't start thinking about the grandkid's birthday in the middle of the process," he said. "But we'll double-, triple- and, if necessary, quadruple-check the count. We are very confident this manual recount will be as accurate as the machine recount."

    The state Democratic Party on Friday deposited $730,000, including $43,000 for Clark County, to recount more than 2.8 million ballots.

    Republican Dino Rossi won a machine recount by 42 votes after winning the original count by 261 over Democrat Christine Gregoire.

    In Clark County, Rossi picked up seven votes and Gregoire four in the recount. Rossi beat Gregoire here by 13,094 votes.

    Since the machine recount, Clark County's ballots have been locked away in 42 sealed boxes.

    Some 30 Democrats and 30 Republicans will start counting Clark County's 172,274 ballots Wednesday.

    The count will be conducted in the elections office, 1408 Franklin St., and will take three or four days, Kimsey said.

    Earning $10 an hour, the party-supplied counters will work in 15 boards comprised of two Democrats and two Republicans to tally votes by precinct.

    Working together, a Democrat and Republican will count a precinct. The other Democrat-Republican team will recount the precinct. If the counts don't agree, a third board will count the votes.

    Party observers up to 15 per party will be allowed to watch the counting but will be confined to aisles 18 inches away from the tables where the votes will be counted.

    The public will be able to watch from one end of the room, Kimsey said. "It's going to be a very full room."

    While both parties have lined up lawyers and fulminated about purported vote-counting irregularities, representatives from both parties remain satisfied with the Clark County Auditor's Office.

    "I think there are no problems as far as the Democrats are concerned," said Democratic election observer Dan Ogden of Vancouver. County elections supervisor "Tim Likness is a very great professional. His people are very good, and the operation has been very good."

    Ogden said Democrats were right to demand a statewide recount, though he said he doubts a third count will yield different results in Clark County.

    Brent Boger, Clark County Republican Party chairman, said Gregoire should concede rather than put the state through a litigious and "less-accurate hand count."

    Nevertheless, he said Friday he's confident the manual recount in Clark County will be fair.

    Clark County is one of 14 counties that use punch-card ballots in which voters mark their choices by punching out squares.

    Voters in most counties fill in ovals to mark their choices. Because some voters use checkmarks or make other marks on their ballots, figuring intent can be subjective.

    "Punch cards don't have that problem. That, I think, is why we have fewer problems," Boger said.

    A federal law passed after the disputed 2000 presidential election will force the county to replace the punch-card system by 2006.

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