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ELECTION: Faulty voting machines delay results; counting under way
The Daily Nonpareil Online. June 7, 2006. by Tim Rohwer, Staff Writer.

The counting in Tuesday's Pottawattamie County primary election came to a sudden halt shortly after midnight today when Pottawattamie County Auditor Marilyn Jo Drake announced to the waiting courthouse crowd that something wasn't right with the new computers purchased to count the ballots.

As a result, all of Tuesday's ballots were in the process of being counted by hand today. Drake said the winners in Tuesday's election might not be known until around midnight this evening.

"We have no clue," she said of the cause of the problem.

But, something wasn't just right from the very beginning, she added.

Things began to look fishy, Drake said, when the county's new computers counted the absentee ballots in the Republican Party's county race between longtime Recorder John Sciortino and newcomer Oscar Duran.

Absentee ballots are the ones counted first.

When all of those were counted, Duran, a University of Nebraska at Omaha student, had 99 votes, while Sciortino, the county recorder since 1983, had just 79.

"John is such a popular candidate," Drake said.

As Tuesday's votes kept coming in, she kept a close eye on that race.

"His (Sciortino's) totals kept going down," Drake said.

Indeed, Duran held a 877- to 793-vote lead after 28 of the county's 41 precincts were counted.

Eventually, Sciortino took the lead after 37 precincts were counted, but by only two votes, 1,112 to 1,110.

Sciortino was surprised at the tight race when he saw those numbers.

"It's closer than I thought it would be," he said. "He did better than I thought he would."

Drake said she decided to count the absentee ballots by hand to determine if the computers were counting correctly.

They weren't - not by a long shot.

The actual absentee ballot count in the recorder's race when done by hand found Sciortino had 153 votes and Duran just 25.

It was then that she decided to stop the computer counting in all the races.

"They could be tainted, we don't know," Drake said.

All Iowa counties were required to purchase new computer technology as part of the federal government's Help America Vote Act, or HAVA, which came about as a result of the counting problems Florida encountered in the 2000 presidential election.

Pottawattamie County ed the Omaha firm of Elections Systems and Software, or E.S. & S., for the necessary new computers that included hand touch machines. Every precinct also has a computerized counter that checks immediately if a ballot is not filled out properly.

"We've been with them for years with other styles of computers, and we never had any problems," Drake said.

An emergency approval by the county's Board of Supervisors was necessary this morning to authorize a hand count of the entire election.  

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