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Slow vote count meant long night for Hamilton County
BY HOWARD WILKINSON, The Enquirer, November 6, 2007

The laboriously-slow vote count in Hamilton County Tuesday was "in part a people problem and in part a programming problem,’’ the county’s top election official said early Wednesday morning.

But whatever the cause, top county officials say they are determined to fix the problem so that next year – when the entire nation may be waiting for Ohio results – Hamilton County’s results aren’t delayed past midnight, as they were Tuesday.

A vote count that many had expected to be done by 11 p.m., and certainly by midnight, stretched well past that time because of problems with some inexperienced poll workers and some problems with how the memory chips from the voting machines were being read by the equipment at the board of elections downtown.

It wasn’t until 1:40 a.m. today that the county posted final results, with all 880 precincts reporting.

Tim Burke, chairman of the Hamilton County Board of Elections, said that there were problems when some of the memory chips from the vote-tallying machines at polling places got downtown to the board’s offices on Broadway. When the chips were fed into the machines at the board of elections, they were giving false readings, Burke said.

The "people" part of the problem involved poll workers who were new to job of presiding judge - the poll worker responsible for packing up the equipment, removing the memory chips and shipping it all the to downtown office.

The presiding judge in a precinct is of the same political party as the gubernatorial candidate who won that precinct in last year’s election. That meant that, because Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, won a majority of precincts in the county last year, hundreds of Republican presiding judges were replaced by Democratic presiding judges.

"Some of them were just uncertain about what to do and how to do it,’’ Burke said.

As of 1 a.m., election officials were still waiting for competer memory chips to arrive from three precincts in Madisonville. Burke said the counting of two other precincts from the same ward would have to wait until the three missing memory chips arrived.

 Burke said the board "will do everything in its power" to make sure these problems do not re-occur.

"We’re going to fix it, but wew’re not going to be able to do that until we fully understand what the problem was; and I can’t say at this point that I understand it,’’ Burke said. "My first question is why it took so long for the memory chips to get down here."

While most Southwest Ohio counties had nearly all their votes counted by 11 p.m., Hamilton County still had only about 25 percent of precincts counted.

County Commissioner Todd Portune said he wants to “get to the bottom” of what happened Tuesday night.

Although the commissioners do not control the Board of Elections, it is important, they said, that this problem be corrected before the presidential race next year.

“We’ll try to understand what went wrong, because when things are delayed in an off-year, imagine what will happen next year,” Portune said. “Ohio’s the battleground state and Hamilton County is the epicenter of the battleground. The rest of the nation could be waiting on what happens in Hamilton County. And with that will come all kinds of accusations, whether founded or not.”

Burke, also chairman of the county Democratic party, said: “There are a lot of inexperienced people out there doing this job for the first time, and it’s taken longer in a lot of cases than we had hoped.

“You have to remember this is only the second time we’ve done an election under this system,” he said, referring to new optical-scan machines that were first used last year.

The delay made candidates antsy and parties fizzle.

Councilwoman Leslie Ghiz’s party at Andy’s Mediterranean Grill in Walnut Hills dwindled before results came in.

Her volunteers, tired from working since early morning, waited three hours and still didn’t know if their candidate had won.


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