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Computer glitch causes hiccup in Cochise County tally  (AZ)

Bill Hess   Wick News Service   07 February 2008

No, John McCain did not come in second to Mitt Romney in Cochise County.

A computer glitch that kept counting five polling places over and over again — for five times — caused the reporting error through late Tuesday night, Cochise County Election Office Tom Schelling said.

When the Herald/Review ran the results in Wednesday morning’s paper, the Republican leader in Cochise County was former Massachusetts governor with a 41.4 percent of the vote to Arizona U.S. Sen. McCain’s 40.5 percent.

Not only was the report in the Herald/Review wrong, but so were the total votes cast, which initially led county election officials to declare that nearly 85 percent of eligible Republican and Democratic voters in the county had cast ballots.

After finding the computer error, which was fixed after the county sent its final report to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office well after midnight, a recount made after the computer problem was fixed led to McCain garnering 4,228 votes, or 40.73 percent, to Romney’s 4,131 votes, or 39.79 percent, Schelling said.

That lowered the Republican and Democratic participation in the presidential preference election in the county to 42.16 percent when the number of people who went to the 18 polling places, 16,050, and early ballots, 3,482, were counted, he said.
Former Arkansas Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee’s final total was 1,326 votes or 12.71 percent, Ron Paul’s was 430 or 4.14 percent and Alan Keyes who got 39 votes or 0.38 percent.

Also on the Republican ballot were some Republicans who have ped out of the race, including Fred Thompson, Duncan Hunter and Rudy Giuliani.

As with the Democrats, a number of Arizona residents had their names on the state’s Republican presidential preference election bring the total number on the ballot to 24 people.

There was no overall change in the Democratic leader  list  with  Sen.  Hillary Clinton still winning  the county, with 51.96 percent of the vote, or 4,719, compared to Sen. Barack Obama’s 40.27 percent, or 3,657 votes.

Before the computer problem was fixed, 12 of the 18 polling places in the county reported Clinton as having 9,021 votes, or 50.27 percent, to Obama’s 7,745 votes, or 43.1 percent. “It was a cumulative (computer) error that just kept adding the results for five polling places every time new figures were added,” Schelling said.

The error got worse when the cumulative error went through five updates.

It was then realized the total number of ballots cast according to the wrong report was more than the people registered in the county, Schelling said.

That led to a scramble to correct the problem and change the official count to 100 percent of the 18 polling places having reported to the state, he said. By then, the newspaper was being run.

This year’s presidential preference election was difficult because the county had to reduce the number of polling places from the usual 64 to 18 because of the state rules, Schelling said.

Maricopa and Pima counties only had to cut the number of polling places in half by Cochise County and other rural areas had to create polling places to have at least 2,000 voters, he said.

In some of the more rural areas that meant some of the traditional polling areas were not opened and people had to drive long distances, the county election officer remarked.

People in St. David who could have been sent to Benson to vote ended up going to Tombstone to help create the 2,000 voter minimum needed for a polling place, Schelling said.

That was probably good because the Benson voting facility was overwhelmed and people were in line there and at other places at 7 p.m. when the official time to close polling places happened, he said.

Because they were in line, they were allowed to vote. Benson reported it finally closed at 8:30 p.m., Schelling said. Some of the voting areas had to have additional staff members sent, and Benson ended up with four more workers to help.

The state will reimburse the county $1.25 per registered voter, which is about 62,000 people, including independents. Schelling said that is not enough money to run the presidential preference election, but it is the amount the state authorized in 1995.

The money is used to pay people at the polling places, to produce ballots, both real ones and examples, to mail information and to support the County’s Recorder’s Office in sending out early ballots, as well as pay his    staff.

“It’s not enough,” and that means the county will have to pay some of the costs, Schelling said.

Individuals who work at the polling places are paid $100 per person for the day of the election, with an inspector at each place receiving $125, he said.

Most of the workers are retired people, although high school students can be employed on election day and given an authorized absence from school, Schelling    said.

Students who are 16 to 18 can act as clerks, who are individuals who do not handle ballots.

High school teens who are 18 and older and registered voters can perform other duties and be granted an authorized absence, he  said.

The school systems do not lose any state funding for students who are performing civic duty involving an election.

Besides cutting down on the number of polling places and the long lines that decisions created, some independents, who were not authorized by state law to vote in either the Republican or Democratic elections demanded to be allowed to vote and they filled out provisional ballots, Schelling said.

There are about 500 provisional ballots that will be sent to the county recorder to determine if the individual was registered and if so in which party.  Those found to be independents will not have their votes tallied.

When it comes to the computer system the county uses in its election process, something that has been used since 2002, there are constant technology upgrades. Schelling said another one is expected to be added before the state’s primary election on Sept. 2.

He does not expect the cumulative error to be repeated then or during the general election on Nov. 4.

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