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Missing name casts shadow on vote (NJ)
Counties to be alerted about possible glitches in machines' software
Star-Ledger, by Claire Heininger, May 30,2008

State officials will contact election officials in all counties today to see if a glitch discovered in vote-reporting software in Union County is more widespread.

A freeholder candidate there was assigned a number that was not recognized by the electronic program, meaning his name will not appear on the summary report used for tabulating results, according to Union County officials. While the results will still accurately reflect the votes cast, they will need to be entered by hand on primary night Tuesday, the officials said.

As the county and the software manufacturer traded blame yesterday, the statewide impact of the problem remained unclear. Linda Von Nessi, president of the New Jersey Association of Election Officials, said she sent a memo to all of the counties recommending they check their machines to see if any candidates there had been assigned the number, but had not yet heard of any.

"I do not believe there will be any question about the integrity of the election," Von Nessi said.

State elections officials said they expected to contact the counties today after speaking with the voting machine manufacturer, Sequoia Voting Systems, yesterday.

Sequoia told the state the problem was not with its voting machine, but with the reporting software, said Division of Elections Director Robert Giles.

"It was important for the state to confirm with Sequoia that it's nothing to do with the machine or the machine's ability to recognize that candidate," Giles said. "We'll reach out to the counties and Sequoia further and just see what the situation is and address the situation as far as reporting on election night."

But the Union County clerk said she remained "very concerned" over Sequoia's response, which has already been subject to controversy over its touch-screen machines and software used in New Jersey. The company initially told the county the name of the freeholder candidate, Carlos Cedeņo, did not appear on the summary reports because of the tilde mark on his last name, said the clerk, Joanne Rajoppi.

When they tried to enter the name again without the tilde and it still did not work, Sequoia told elections officials it was because Cedeņo had been assigned the number "999," which the software does not recognize for summary reports, said Dennis Kobitz, acting administrator of the Union County Board of Elections.

Sequoia disputes that account, saying yesterday it was the county that raised the accent issue.

"The customer was troubleshooting and we worked with them to determine the true cause of the reporting issue," said company spokeswoman Michelle Shafer. "We continue to work with Union County on the best solution to this minor report display issue that does not have anything to do with vote totals or voting equipment."

Sequoia will send someone to help with the summary reports on election night, a solution that left Rajoppi unsatisfied.

"I'm just very aggravated. I believe they're very arrogant in their approach to this," she said. "They are the vendor. They are supposed to provide what's needed to certify an election."

The company has recently been targeted by voting rights advocates who contend the state's 10,000 electronic voting machines are not reliable.

Cedeņo said last night he is "definitely concerned" about the irregularity.

"In my opinion it does affect the integrity of the election," he said. "It makes you wonder."


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