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Ballots found in drawer
Another mistake for GOP-controlled election board narrowed the gap in the county recorder's race to 25 votes.

MUNCIE The Delaware County Election Board conducted a special meeting Monday afternoon to count 63 absentee ballots that had been left in a bottom drawer in the county clerk's office on Election Day.

Republican Jane Lasater's lead over Democrat Claudette King in the race for county recorder shrank to 25 votes after the sealed ballots from precinct 22 a Democratic stronghold voting at Grissom Elementary School were counted.

"They were just overlooked," Mary Jane Upchurch, Republican election-room commissioner, told board members.

Democratic election-room commissioner Linda Honeycutt agreed. "I have no idea how we missed those," she said.

While the ballots were found in a drawer that was no longer kept locked after Election Day, Republican County Clerk Karen Wenger said: "I don't question the integrity of these ballots at all. These are very good ballots."

The ballots were sealed in security envelopes that had either been mailed in or delivered by traveling boards that visit absentee voters in places such as nursing homes.

It was Democratic election board member Phil Nichols a veteran politician who caught the election-room's mistake and alerted Wenger, who began searching for the missing, active ballots.

While reading precinct summary reports several days after the election, Nichols noticed that only 17 people had supposedly voted by absentee ballot in precinct 22. Nichols knew that more people than that had cast absentee ballots in that precinct and alerted Wenger.

The clerk told The Star Press that the county will need to employ more election workers in 2008.

"They were tired and overworked," Wenger said, offering a possible explanation for ballots being left in a drawer.

Election-room employees worked until 1:30 a.m. on the Saturday before Election Day, then returned to work at 7 a.m. on that same Saturday. They reported to work at 8:30 a.m. on Monday and at 5 a.m. on Tuesday.

This was the second mistake of the 2006 general election for the Republican-controlled county election board. The first error an incorrect PIN number halted voting on electronic voting machines on Election Day.

As a result, 1,699 provisional, paper ballots were cast and the polls were kept open until 8:40 p.m.

At Monday's board meeting, Nichols recommended the board schedule a public hearing to give disgruntled voters a chance to air their grievances. That could improve future elections, Nichols said. Wenger agreed.

The board plans to meet again Friday to act on 41 contested, provisional paper ballots that were cast by voters who were not registered, lacked a photo ID or distrusted voting machines on Election Day. Nichols's recommendation for a public hearing also will be discussed at Friday's meeting.

Republican board member Bill Bruns couldn't attend Monday's meeting because he required an emergency tooth extraction. Attorney Bruce Munson was Bruns's proxy at Monday's meeting.

Before the 1,699 provisional ballots were counted, Lasater led King by 25 votes 15,503 to 15,478. After the provisional ballots were counted, Lasater's lead increased to 73 votes 16,316 to 16,243. But after the missing ballots from precinct 22 were tallied, Lasater's lead narrowed back to 25 votes 16,323 to 16,298.

King and her attorney, Joe Hunter, who attended Monday's board meeting, have not decided whether to challenge the outcome of the election.

"I'm crunching numbers that don't make sense," King said in an interview. If you don't count the 1,699 provisional ballots, "I would have won," King said.

Lasater and her attorney, Charles Clark, also attended. "This is worse than election night," Lasater said as the ballots were being counted.

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