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Pa. officials to review voting irregularities

The Associated Press   09 January 2005

MERCER - The Pennsylvania Department of State will open an examination of an electronic voting system that plagued balloting locations in three counties and led to the resignation of an election director, agency officials said.

Voters using the new machines in Mercer, Greene and Beaver counties on Nov. 2 complained that their votes were voided when they tried to review their choice, which led to long lines at some balloting locations.

Eight counties used the same machines made by UniLect, based in Dublin, Calif., but the voting difficulties were limited to the three counties in western Pennsylvania.

"These machines should be reviewed by technical experts," said Michael Coulter, who chairs Mercer County's independent panel investigating voting difficulties. "And really it's the Department of State that would have the resources to provide their own technical review."

Misprogrammed electronic voting machines malfunctioned in 4th Congressional District precincts in Shenango Township, West Middlesex, Wheatland, Farrell and Hermitage.

The review of the problems that occurred in the three counties will be completed in advance of the May 17 primary, said Brian McDonald, a spokesman for the Department of State.

"It's not just a review to figure out what went wrong during the election," McDonald said.

"We will be taking a more general look at the system rather than what occurred just on Nov. 2."

The investigation will include a look at significantly lower vote counts that were recorded in three counties in the presidential contest, he said.

Those problems were reported by The Herald newspaper in Sharon, Mercer County.

The director of elections in Mercer County resigned last month as a result of the confusion.

James Bennington had worked for the county since 1982 and became the director of elections in 1998, a part-time position.

It remains unclear what the state plans to do in regard to machines made by UniLect. The company's voting machines were certified by the state in 1994.

Mercer County spent nearly $1 million to install the system in 2001.

"That's another bridge we've got to cross," McDonald said. "Those things will come into play once the proceedings take place."

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