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City may have to hold new election

Published Thursday, May 17, 2007

By Christina Lane   Wise County Messenger

Thirty-eight votes in the Aurora city election are missing and the problem is being turned over to the office of the secretary of state, City Administrator Toni Kelly-Richardson said Tuesday.

The city may have to have another election, officials said.

The city used three Diebold Election Systems voting machines in its election – two were designated for early voting and the other for election day.

When one of the early voting machines stopped allowing people to cast ballots, Kelly-Richardson said the city switched to paper ballots.

“Someone from Diebold was here within two hours to work on the problem,” Kelly-Richardson said.

The memory card, which stores the votes from the machine, was “pulled out and sealed up” until the results should be counted, she said.

The machine for election day was pulled out of storage to replace the machine that had malfunctioned.

On election day, the other machine malfunctioned and was replaced by the machine from early voting, which had been repaired.

At 7 p.m. Saturday when the polls closed, Kelly-Richardson said the votes were tabulated. When the memory card was opened from storage and placed in a machine for reading, it showed to have no votes on it.

“We knew that the card had 38 ballots on it,” she said.

So a Diebold representative was called out Monday to work on it.

“We worked on it and worked on it and worked on it, and we couldn’t get it to work,” Kelly-Richardson said.

The representative told Kelly-Richardson that the ballots should still be on the internal memory of the voting machine.

It was planned that on Tuesday morning the machine would be turned on and the ballots located on the internal memory.

But a fire Monday evening at the Aurora city hall caused considerable concern for Kelly-Richardson.

“The only thing I was worried about was that machine,” she said.

When the fire department arrived on the scene, the Diebold machines were removed. One was engulfed in flames, but the early voting machine still appeared to be in working condition – though its case smoldered – she said.

The case was cut open and the machine was taken to MD Resort for ballot viewing.

“Our ballot wouldn’t even pull up on it,” Kelly-Richardson said.

The machine appeared to have no Aurora ballots on its system.

David Bear, a spokesman for Diebold Election Systems, said the company is still attempting to recover the ballots.

“We are working hard to recover the memory cards and the memory in the units, but it’s a little too early to tell what will happen,” Bear said. “We are having some trouble recovering them.”

He said the ballots are “redundantly” stored on the machine’s internal memory and could, with time, be located.

“Unfortunately it’s an iffy project,” he said. “We are going through the process of locating them, but the fire has complicated it – if not rendered it impossible.”

Bear said Diebold has experienced instances before in which the redundancy in storing ballots on the machines was used to locate ballots, but he said this is the first case, to his knowledge, involving a fire.

Don Alexander, elections administrator for Denton County, said that the company has a history of having problems.

“Diebold does not have a good reputation,” Alexander said.

For example, in November 2006 an HBO documentary called “Hacking Democracy” revealed how Princeton University students hacked into a Diebold voting machine.

Other Wise County cities, including Rhome, Boyd, Paradise, Chico and Alvord used Diebold voting machines during the election. No one else experienced any problems.

Kelly-Richardson said Aurora is turning its matter over to the secretary of state’s office and will await a decision from the state on what to do next.

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