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E-voting counties say election was done properly


Associated Press   21 December 2004

CLEVELAND - With Ohio inching toward a final recount that trimmed a few hundred votes from President Bush's six-figure margin, elections officials said electronic voting systems worked as promised. But critics were unconvinced.

With recount results reported in 85 of 88 counties Tuesday, President Bush picked up 437 votes and Sen. John Kerry got an extra 680, narrowing Bush's 119,000-vote lead by 243 votes, according to an Associated Press survey of the counties. Both sides agreed last month that the recount wouldn't change the outcome.

But Kerry's concession and Bush's claim of victory didn't deter those who felt that alleged voting irregularities in Ohio called the outcome into question. Most notably, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and backers sued in Columbus to overturn the Ohio election.

Jackson and the Massachusetts-based Alliance for Democracy accused the Bush campaign of "high-tech vote stealing."

Among Ohio's seven electronic-voting counties, the coalition questioned pre-election procedures in Auglaize County and Election Day problems in Mahoning County. The other e-voting counties are Franklin, Lake, Pickaway, Ross and Knox.

An AP review of electronic voting found few reports of widespread problems. Elections officials of both parties were confident the election was fair and done properly, experience that could be handy in the future in Ohio, where more counties are expected to move to e-voting.

But that confidence doesn't stop some people from worrying.

"We are so threatened by hackers. I can't see how we can keep machines safe," said Yoshiko Ikuta, 75, of Lakewood.

The retiree and Democrat who worked as a poll worker in the city's punch-card election last month said Tuesday she distrusts any voting system that relies on computers.

One e-voting problem this election that became a lightning rod for critics happened in Gahanna near Columbus in Franklin County, where an electronic voting system gave Bush nearly 4,000 extra votes. Officials said the malfunction occurred when one machine's cartridge was plugged into a laptop computer and generated faulty numbers in several races.

In Lake County, located northeast of Cleveland, it's a matter of pride for the board that it reported election night results first in Ohio, at 9:17 p.m.

Election Day problems were largely limited to three machines that showed low-battery signals, according to Janet F. Clair, board director. She said the board doesn't make Election Day repairs, so the machines were taken out of service.

Clair wouldn't be drawn into specific criticism of vote system skeptics, instead mentioning that critical records are kept under locks that require two keys - one held by a Democrat and one by a Republican. "Everything we do is under lock and key," she said.

Elections officials, mindful of quick-response Internet devotees, sound hesitant to dismiss out of hand even outlandish fraud claims, instead patiently restating the process is supervised in each county by an elections board that, by law, must have two Democrats and two Republicans.

In Auglaize County in rural western Ohio, board director Jean Burklo, a Democrat, also cited the statutory bipartisan nature of elections work as evidence that any fraud would require Democrats and Republicans to collaborate.

"We have a great election system. I know the election people in Ohio," she said.

A single voting machine in Auglaize County malfunctioned on Election Day. Burklo said a replacement was installed by midday and no votes were affected.

A key issue for electronic system critics involves "recalibration," or a repair of a machine which might be recording a vote for candidate "A" when the voter is pushing the button for candidate "B." The light alongside the wrong candidate goes on, warning the voter.

The lawsuit pending in Columbus by Jackson and allies claimed up to 30 machines in the Youngstown area had to be recalibrated. Another dozen machines froze up and needed to be reset, according to the lawsuit.

Another concern among voter advocates involved the rotation of candidates to the top of the list in Mahoning County's Youngstown. Political wisdom suggests the top of the ballot is preferable because some uninformed voters might choose the candidate listed first.

State law requires candidates to be rotated by precinct. In other words, Bush's name might be listed first in one precinct, and Kerry's would be first in the next precinct. But Mahoning County machines rotated names for each voter: a man might vote and see Bush's name first and his wife could go next and see the Kerry name listed first on the same machine.

"I don't think we see a problem with that," said Carlo LoParo, a spokesman for Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell.

Though some critics cried foul, there wasn't much evidence that the outcome was affected by the rotation: election night returns gave Kerry 62 percent of the vote to Al Gore's 63 percent in 2000 in Mahoning County. The recount added 76 votes to Kerry's total, and that matched Gore's 63 percent.

Messages left at the Mahoning board were not immediately returned.

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