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County works to end mystery of double vote
Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 11/16/06


TOMS RIVER The first paper printouts rolled out of the voting machines early Wednesday evening in lengths that looked like credit card receipts from a Christmas shopping spree. Barnegat political candidates gathered around to see if there were any gifts for them there.

"We've got District 1, Barnegat!" called out Robert D. Englehard, a voting machine technician with the Ocean County Board of Elections, as he gathered up a printout the first paper "tape" to be run after state Superior Court Judge Frank Buczynski Jr. allowed the election board to proceed with its recheck of every digital voting machine used in the Nov. 7 general election.

Buczynski gave the go-ahead late Wednesday afternoon, after voting machine maker Sequoia Voting Systems sent him written assurance that a machine used in Barnegat that is at the center of the board's investigation would not be inadvertently reset during the procedure.

County election officials suspect a software from Sequoia came with a fault that doubled the count of about 150 ballots cast on a single Barnegat machine, then added 75 votes from that unit to a vote tally in a Lakewood district.

Checking the Barnegat machines yielded printouts of the local results that matched those from Election Day "Exactly what we thought would happen," said Dolores Coulter, a Democratic candidate for the township committee there.

"This recheck made the board feel good about the integrity of the hard drives in the machines," Coulter said.

However, it still did not offer any insight into how the Sequoia software for tallying results would double the votes from one machine in Barnegat and propagate others to the Lakewood district.

"No one can give use those answers," Coulter said.

Representatives for Barnegat Democratic candidates, who will probably seek a recount of their closely fought election, told Buczynski earlier that they're worried that restarting the voting machine will further cloud the results.

"I don't like the term "glitch.' . . . There is a major problem with the software," activist Michele Rosen said.

"To take a chance on reopening these machines and destroying what is in there . . . the danger is great, in terms of the effect on the public's thinking about elections," Rosen said, referring to ongoing national debates over the reliability and security of digital balloting.

Lawyers for Barnegat and state Democratic organizations suggested the Board of Elections certify the election results before proceeding with a recheck of internal memories on all 758 voting machines.

There should be testimony in court, or at least an affidavit describing the problem, before the election board is allowed to open machines sealed under state law, said Dennis Oury, a lawyer for the Barnegat Democrats.

"My problem is the (state election) statute doesn't allow for this kind of recheck," Oury said. "The statute hasn't caught up with the technology."

Outside the court, George R. Gilmore, chairman of the county election board and the county's Republican Party leader, said the board could not agree to certify results it knows to be inaccurate, even if the miscounted votes did not change election results.

"It's not in the machine. It's in the software that tallies the votes," Gilmore said, as state Assistant Attorney General Donna Kelly and lawyers for the county and Democratic organizations huddled in Buczynski's jury room, drafting a work plan for the judge's approval. "If we're going to do all the machines in the county, we need to start tonight to get finished by tomorrow."

Around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Buczynski issued the order that enabled county officials to begin rereading the machines' internal memories. Each machine's detachable data cartridge, used on election night to transmit data to the county's computer tabulation system, remain secured under lock so they can be reviewed if there is a legal challenge to any election result, Kelly told the judge.

Municipal races were extremely close in Barnegat, South Toms River, Lavallette, Seaside Park and Tuckerton, and election workers Wednesday night were trying to read all those machines first, Gilmore said.

Oury said it's most likely that Barnegat's Democratic candidates, who were edged out by Republicans by narrow margins Tuesday, will seek a recount.

The rereading of machine results was continuing until 10 p.m. Wednesday and would resume at 8 a.m. today at the county's Voting Technology Center, a hangarlike warehouse on Chestnut Street where the Sequoia machines are stored.

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