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County gets more time on vote query
Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 12/14/06

BY KIRK MOORE
TOMS RIVER BUREAU

TOMS RIVER A Superior Court judge Wednesday gave Ocean County Board of Election officials more time to meet with Waretown political activist Michele F. Rosen and provide her with records concerning the county's electronic voting machines.

Judge Frank Buczynski Jr. would not grant Rosen and co-plaintiff Rose Jackson, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Barnegat Township Committee in November, a time extension to pursue a challenge of extremely close polling results in Barnegat and four other Ocean County municipalities where local races were decided by thin margins in the November general election.

The judge instructed Rosen and election officials to meet again and review her request under the state Open Public Records Act to see voting machine paper reports and related documents. He also left the door open for Rosen to bring her records request back to the courts if she is not satisfied.

"We've always said we were going to get it done," said Robert Giles, an executive supervisor with the Board of Elections. He said election workers who were tied up with preparations for Tuesday's school referendums now can meet with Rosen.

Rosen said she had an appointment last week to meet at the voting machine warehouse, but it was canceled.

"The reason they couldn't talk to me is they were installing a fix to the problem they had in November," she said.

A suspected fault in vote-tallying software affected votes cast on a single machine in Barnegat during the election, although the miscount did not have an effect on the outcome of the election, election officials said.

They suspect the problem was introduced with new software that was installed this year to make the Sequoia machines compatible with new audio kits that help blind voters cast ballots.

Giles said a new software , called Wineds 3.1, was installed for this week's school balloting; the was used in Pennsylvania for the November elections there and was recently certified by New Jersey state officials, he said.

"It was to address any bugs in 3.0," the last edition, Giles said. "It's like any other software ()."

Meanwhile, Sequoia's technical experts have yet to explain why the results from Barnegat were miscounted, Giles said: "They've not yet given us an answer as to what happened in November."

In filing an Open Public Records Act request, Rosen also sought complete paper reports from the county's fleet of more than 700 Sequoia machines.

Loretta Lonergan, a state deputy attorney general representing the election board, took the position that there is no legal requirement for them to maintain such a collection of more than 20,000 pages. Giles said the board also has argued that there are proprietary issues involved with Sequoia's software.

Buczynski said the election challenge and OPRA request need to be separate issues for the courts to deal with. He instructed Rosen to meet again with election officials, and then come back to the courts with a new complaint outlining documents she still wants to see.

Rosen said she wants to see documents relating to the qualifications of workers who created the Sequoia machine ballots. She has problems, too, with the way polling stations are set up; Rosen insists they should have model voting machine boards, so voters can acquaint themselves with the way the ballot looks on the machine panel before they go in to cast their ballot.

More than 20 percent of Ocean County's population are seniors, "yet it's an acknowledged fact that seniors have computer anxiety. . . . They didn't have any kind of model whatsoever," Rosen said.

That probably contributes to "undervoting," when voters don't cast a complete ballot because they miss or skip over some choices, said Rosen, who said she has collected affidavits from voters who believe they did not press proper buttons on the machines.

"In Barnegat we're looking at 8 percent to 11 percent undervotes in senior citizen districts," she said. "It doesn't make any sense because in recent elections the undervote has been about 3 percent throughout the county."



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