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Dems critical of Idaho election officials

Associated Press writer Thursday, November 09, 2006

BOISE, Idaho Problem pens, broken scanners, low supplies and long lines plagued some of Idaho's polling stations on Election Day, prompting some political candidates to compare the state's woes to a more infamous election in the south.

"This is like a Third World country. This is like Miami in 2000," said Democrat Jerry Brady, who lost the governor's seat to Republican C.L. "Butch" Otter on Tuesday. "We should make this more easy."

State election officials say final turnout figures won't be known until canvassing of votes takes place, but they were confident it would approach the predicted 63 percent, the highest in a non-presidential election since 1994.

The slowest vote counts came from eastern Idaho's Bannock County, where optical scan readers failed to recognize the ink used to mark ballots. The county was using the Bic pens recommended by the company that makes the scanner, Idaho Secretary of State Chief Deputy Tim Hurst said, but the machines still didn't work.

Once the problem was discovered, the thousands of unread ballots were handed over to a resolution board, which included a Republican and a Democratic representative, Hurst said. They marked over each ink spot with a blue highlighter allowing the voter's original mark to show through and fed it through the machines again, Hurst said.

Though the scanners were able to read the highlighter ink, the county's problem was further compounded when one of the scanner drives broke down, leaving vote counters with just one machine to handle all the county's ballots.

In Ada County, the computer system used to report votes crashed at midnight when it became disconnected from the machines used to tabulate the votes, Hurst said. Results were not released until nearly 4 a.m. Wednesday in the state's most populous county.

Madison County officials in at least five precincts ran out of ballot secrecy sleeves, but voting continued as officials substituted manila envelopes.

In Bonner County, a write-in campaign by a candidate for county commissioner required hand-counting ballots that delayed final results.

And some voters in the Boise suburb of Meridian had to wait up to three hours for their turn to vote. Some apparently gave up and left the long lines without casting ballots.

"I get very discouraged, because every year we have some of these problems," said Richard Stallings, chairman of the Idaho Democratic Party. "As far as the computer and the automated machines in Bannock County, they're embarrassing. They should be ashamed of themselves and their hamhanded effort."

Stallings said Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa must take responsibility for the problems.

"When you have these kind of screwups, the buck's got to stop there," he said.

But Ysursa, who oversaw the recount of Stalling's 1984 170-vote victory over Republican U.S. Rep. George Hansen, bristled when told of the criticism.

"Richard Stallings knows my reputation and he knows that fairness and accuracy is what we are after," Ysursa, a Republican, told The Associated Press. "There never has been and will never be a perfect election conducted. This is a partnership with counties and some of the hiccups that happened we need to address and learn from to make sure they don't happen again."

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