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Late-night vote-tally snafus 'probably set some records'  (TX)

STEVEN ALFORD      Lufkin Evening News   05 March 2008

It was a late night for anyone waiting on the primary election results at the Angelina County Courthouse Annex Tuesday. Election administrators blamed a series of problems, mostly machine errors and improper planning, for what turned out to be one of the longest waits in local election history. For a procedure that would normally be finished around 10 p.m., just a few hours after polls closed, 4:20 a.m. seemed late to many.

Acting Tax Assessor Thelma "Midget" Sherman, who was a candidate herself, remembers seeing few nights like it during her 19 years of service in the tax office, the office in charge of counting the ballots. "I've definitely seen some crazy stuff happen here on election nights, but as far as taking this long for results, I probably set some records last night," Sherman said.

The problems started when the counting machines could not read the electronic cards containing the count data. "Each machine will only take 10 precincts," Sherman said. "The precinct numbers labeled on the cards did not match the information inside the card, and the machines would not accept them. We had to go back and start from scratch, physically counting ballots at times."

Not one to point fingers, Sherman conceded that there was a programming error down the line that could have been caught earlier.

"You don't prepare for the worst, you prepare for the best, but now we know what can go wrong, and this is something we will be on the lookout for in upcoming elections."

Several cities around Texas have criticized electronic voting systems and have reverted back to the traditional paper method. However, Sherman believes that paper ballots leave too much room for human interference.

"With an electronic system, the voter has more power. The votes don't have to go through an intent committee which interprets how voters cast their votes," Sherman said. "It's just straight from the voters' fingers to the machines. I really think that our system is the best despite what happened last night."

Election officials applauded local judges, stating that even despite the machine glitches, they had minimal problem calls from around the county and it was a smooth race overall.

Yet questions have been raised whether or not there could have been a technician on hand to deal with the card-reader failure or the printer jams that brought early voting tallies to a temporary standstill. "I think next election we will have someone on hand to ensure that these problems are corrected in a more timely manner," Sherman said. "They don't have to sit around all night, but somebody should be ready to hop out of bed if we experience something like this again."

Now that conspiracy rumors coming from the crowd at the tax office are fizzling out, Sherman seems unaffected by criticism and confident that everything worked honestly and according to plan.

"Nobody did anything to intentionally hurt the election; we made sure there wasn't any room for one person to purposely make a mistake," Sherman said. "It was a long night for everyone, and I apologize to those who had to stay up later than expected. Copies of the count will be available to anyone who needs them, just give me a call and you can come pick them up anytime."

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