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Voting mishap blamed on software problems
Some ballots counted twice, sparking a call for a check of totals at Shore
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Star-Ledger Staff

Ocean County election officials plan to examine all vote totals from last week's election because software glitches apparently caused votes to be counted twice in Barnegat and, in some cases, transferred to Lakewood.

Voting rights groups, who say New Jersey needs better rules governing such examinations, are eyeing the process closely and have urged election officials to improve backup systems.

If Superior Court Judge Frank Buczynski Jr. gives his approval tomorrow , Ocean County Board of Election staff will start examining all 758 machines immediately, said George Gilmore, chairman of the county election board. The process is not considered a true recount, because individual votes are not being examined.

"We've got to show voters, yes, their vote counts and doesn't count twice," Gilmore said.

Just two machines used last Tuesday one in Barnegat, the other in Lakewood showed discrepancies. Gilmore said that in each case, the voting machines appear to have properly recorded votes, but summary reports sent to the county were in error.

Gilmore said the double count in Barnegat was most likely caused by an error in the computer program that told the Barnegat clerk one of the cartridges from the machine had not been read when it actually had. When that cartridge got to election board headquarters in Toms River, staff saw the program note that the cartridge had not been read and counted it again, he said.

He could not explain how votes from the same Barnegat district were transferred to the summaries in Lakewood.

The clerk in Barnegat first noticed that the tallies in her town were different from the county summaries, Gilmore said. County officials then compared individual tallies in all towns to county summaries and discovered the problem in Lakewood.

Last week was the first time the entire state used electronic voting machines in a general election. But Gilmore said Ocean County has used the electronic machines since 1997 without incident.

By law, county officials need a court order to examine machines. At their request, State Attorney General Stuart Rabner sought the court order yesterday.

Although the glitch would not affect the outcome of the election, Penny Venetis, a law professor at Rutgers University, said it proves the machines are not infallible and highlights the need for clearer guidelines.

"There's nothing in New Jersey's laws that gives anyone any clue as to how to do the recount," she said. "There has to be a uniform way."

Irene Etkin Goldman, chairwoman of the Coalition for Peace Action, a regional peace organization based in Princeton, said a paper record is needed to ensure a voter's choice has been registered.

She advocates a type of machine that scans a paper ballot, which leaves a paper trail.

"I would like to see the paperless technology be decommissioned," she said. "You cannot prove what the intent of the voter is."

Gilmore acknowledged the current system cannot confirm voter intent, but he said the county is considering allowing voters to get printouts of their ions immediately after they cast their ballots.

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