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Machines delay ballot counting
By KIRK SWAUGER   The Tribune-Democrat   10 November 2005

Somerset County officials are continuing a yearlong search for new vote-counting machines, a day after a frustratingly long election that didn?t end until nearly 4 a.m. Wednesday.

Officials are blaming the delay in tabulating Tuesday?s results on blank ballots for statewide judicial retention that could not be read by optical scanners.

County Commissioner Jimmy Marker said more modern equipment would cost up to $900,000, of which the state has committed about $664,000.

?If the state s a vendor or vendors to provide new voting equipment and comes through with the funding they stated they will, we will look at upgrading our system,? he said.

On Tuesday, officials said every ballot without votes on the separate retention ballot was kicked out of the system, slowing the count considerably.

?It was very frustrating,? Marker said. ?It was also frustrating for the two people working the machines who had been standing for six hours without a break and with a stack of ballots a mile high.?

Along with the regular municipal-election ballot, voters had another ballot to decide whether they wanted to keep state Supreme Court Justices Russell M. Nigro and Sandra Shultz Newman.

?There were a lot of retention ballots that weren?t voted,? Elections Director Tina Pritts said.

?We have the machine set up to stop so we can examine the ballot to make sure it?s blank.?

Candidates and the public had to wait until 3:45 a.m. to find out the results of a close judicial race ? or about four hours later than most elections.

The situation will be addressed by the county election board, County Commissioner Pamela Tokar-Ickes said.

?Certainly, I was surprised when I woke up (Wednesday) morning and realized we didn?t have final results,? she said.

?We?re going to look at it. It?s an issue. But our goal is to make sure our count is accurate.?

Pritts said officials are discussing whether it?s feasible for the county to buy new election equipment, but no decision has been made.

Most other counties that do not use the optical scanners with penciled-in ballots had their results available by about midnight, if not earlier.

?As you know, we all use different tabulation equipment,? Tokar-Ickes said. ?We use an optical scanner in Somerset County. That?s the way it was set up in the past.

?We have a very efficient system.?

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