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Software flub leads to county recount
Problems delay results elsewhere in the state
Billings Gazette By ED KEMMICK 08 November 2006

Yellowstone County elections workers were expecting to work until 5 or 6 this morning after deciding after midnight Wednesday to recount every ballot cast in the county Tuesday.

County Election Administrator Duane Winslow said the fault was his. The county was using a new software program for its three electronic vote-counting machines this year, he said, and he neglected an important function in tabulating the absentee ballots.

Absentee ballots - and there were nearly 20,000 in Yellowstone County this year - are normally counted first, after which the regular ballots from the precincts are counted.

After the absentee ballots were counted, Winslow said, he was supposed to hit a "zero out" button on the voting machines, which basically cleans the slate before the regular ballots are counted. That was the step Winslow neglected to take on two of the machines. He said he thinks he hit the button on one of the machines. "It's unfamiliar," he said. "It's just a mistake I made."

As a result, he said, some of the absentee ballots, perhaps as many as 3,000, may have been counted again when the regular ballots were being run through the machines. He decided about 12:40 a.m. to undertake a complete recount.

"I'd just rather make absolutely sure, especially with races this close," he said.

Winslow assembled what staff was left in the courthouse just before 1 a.m. and told them about his decision to conduct a recount. He said they would probably be there until 5 or 6 this morning. He also said that while the reason for this recount is new, the delayed count is not unprecedented. He remembered at least two previous occasions when votes were still being counted at dawn.

Voters cast ballots close to midnight Tuesday in parts of Montana, after exercising a new option for last-minute voter registration. The late balloting and computer problems in some county election offices slowed results by hours.

The last voter at the Gallatin County Courthouse was casting a ballot at 11:55 p.m., said Eric Semered, an election worker. He said the Election Day registrations led to long lines, and hundreds of people still were waiting to vote at the scheduled closing time of 8 p.m.

"There have been lines out the building, around the corner all day long," he said.

The Montana statewide database of voters suffered a technical glitch Tuesday that prevented at least two counties from registering new voters for about an hour, the secretary of state's office said. Those counties were told that voters seeking same-day registration should instead cast provisional ballots, spokesman Bowen Greenwood said.

He said only counties that logged out of the computer system and then tried to re-enter it experienced the problem. Missoula and Lake counties reported the problem, but others may have encountered it as well, Greenwood said.

He said that the provisional ballots would be counted and that he did not know how many might have been cast.

In Missoula and Lewis and Clark counties, as in Gallatin, polls remained open past the scheduled closing to accommodate long lines of people wanting same-day registration.

Hundreds of people wanted such registration in Flathead County, and 1,089 submitted absentee ballots, the counting of which began around 6 p.m., said Paula Robinson, Flathead County election administrator.

The same-day registration and the absentee surge, both changes from previous elections, stretched out the reporting of election results, as did the need to manually feed some computer cards into a system because of a glitch in automation, officials said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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