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County finds vote errors  (NJ)
ROBERT STERN   The Times    23 February 2008

Five percent of the 600 electronic voting machines used in Mercer County during the Feb. 5 presidential primary recorded inaccurate voter turnout totals, county officials said yesterday.

County officials said the miscues did not affect the election re sults but expressed renewed concerns over the reliability of the machines.

"I am deeply concerned about the discrepancies seen in the vot ing returns from the Sequoia vot ing machines in this month's New Jersey primary elections," Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes wrote in a letter yesterday to state Attorney General Anne Milgram.

"Although the discrepancies do not affect the outcome of the election, it certainly undermines the confidence in the voting public when they hear that the reliability of the electric voting machines is in question," Hughes wrote.

Problems with the numbers cropped up in 30 of Mercer Coun ty's 600 Sequoia Voting Systems machines, Hughes said.

In each case, the problem isn't one of miscounted votes, but a mismatch between the total Democratic and Republican ballots cast as recorded by the machine and the numbers that should have been recorded, officials said.

In other words, while the malfunctioning machine correctly recorded each vote cast for the right candidate, it miscalculated the numbers of total Republican and total Democratic ballots, county Clerk Paula Sollami-Covello said.

Apparently through some kind of software or hardware glitch, each malfunctioning machine in Mercer County showed one fewer Democratic voter than it should have and one extra Republican voter, Sollami-Covello said.

In other counties with the problem, the reverse occurred each malfunctioning machine showed one fewer Republican voter and one extra Democratic voter than it should have, Sollami-Covello said.

Mercer County had more than half of the statewide total of 59 machines with the glitch, said David Wald, spokesman for the state At torney General's Office, which oversees New Jersey elections. Five counties in addition to Mercer had problem machines, although they represent a tiny percentage of the 10,000 Sequoia voting machines the state uses.

The other counties are Middlesex, Bergen, Gloucester, Ocean and Union.

"The problem was in the summary report in the partisan breakout for vote totals," Wald said.
"We do share Mr. Hughes' concern and need to find out from Se quoia why this is," he said.

Michelle Shafer, a spokeswoman for California-based Se quoia, said in an e-mail last night that the firm is "working to isolate and determine the specific cause of an ancillary reporting issue" reported by several of the company's New Jersey customers.

"This issue has no effect on the cast vote records on the voting machines, and therefore the integrity of the vote is not in question. The election results are correct," Shafer wrote.

While Mercer County, state and Sequoia officials said they are cer tain the inaccuracies have no bearing on the voting tallies for each candidate, Hughes and Sollami- Covello emphasized that any discrepancy even in voter turnout by party registration is significant.

"We rely upon these machines for their veracity and we expect them to work," Sollami-Covello said. "The attorney general is now dealing with Sequoia because it was a statewide problem. Obvi ously, it's something that concerns me because it places doubt in the voters' minds."

"I want assurances that this is not going to happen again," she said.

Hughes noted that it has been several years since Mercer County set aside $500,000 toward retrofit ting its Sequoia voting machines to have a voter-verified printout as a paper trail to ensure the integrity and accuracy of each electronic ballot cast but that the firm has yet to come up with the retrofit.

"It's time that Sequoia ought to be brought to the table and figure out if these machines are going to continue to have problems, how does New Jersey go about either getting a realistic fix to them or how do we get reimbursement for the payment while we pursue other machines," said Hughes, a Democrat.

The Legislature had hopped to have all voting machines retrofitted with paper printer for the Feb. 5 primary but it now appears they won't be upgraded until after the November general election.

Sequoia technicians visited Mercer and Middlesex counties in the past couple of days to examine the problem from Feb. 5, government officials said.
 "There's no immediate explana tion," Wald said, nor did he have an indication of how soon one will be provided.

There is, however, an explana tion for why Mercer County spokesman Pete Daly told The Times on Thursday that Mercer did not have any reported Sequoia machine problems like the other five counties: a lapse in communication between the clerk's office and the county administration.

The county clerk's office had its first inkling of a possible problem the previous Friday after receiving an inquiry from another county's clerk, Sollami-Covello said. The problem was detected in Mercer on Tuesday, she said.

Mercer County paid $3.9 million for the 600 Sequoia machines in 2003. Since then, the federal government has provided $3.1 million to the county under the Help America Vote Act to defray the bulk of the expense for its Sequoia purchase, Hughes said.

But, he said, "that's cold comfort if you can't rely on these things to record how many voters went to the polls or what parties they were."

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