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Computer glitch stalls Northumberland County vote count (PA)
The Daily Item. November 4, 2008. by Rob Scott

SUNBURY — Representatives of both major political parties held election results in Northumberland County in limbo for more than an hour Tuesday night after a computer glitch caused problems at the polls.
Early Tuesday, at about 7:30 a.m., poll workers discovered that voters who cast a straight-party ticket could not see a summary of the candidates they voted for.

Mike Anderson, deputy director of elections, said many of the county’s 94 precincts were notified immediately and told to inform voters not to cast straight-party tickets.

However, election workers were notified shortly before the polls closed at 8 p.m. that representatives from the Republican and Democratic state committees — along with the Department of State — had expressed concern over the integrity of the votes and they could not be counted.

Director of elections Mary Thew said she was told not to take the memory cards — which contain a record of votes cast — out of the voting machines until told otherwise.

At about 9 p.m., county commissioners Vinny Clausi and Kurt Masser said the county had agreed to count the votes by hand, using printouts from the machines, and store the machines in a secure area.

“We want to do anything we can to protect the integrity of the machines,” Masser said.

Several minutes later, however, an order from Northumberland County Judge Charles Saylor was issued, directing the county to tally votes using the memory cards and lock the machines up until given further notice.

“The overall concern of the state Republican Party was that when (voters) went in to utilize the machines and they cast a straight-party ballot, their votes weren’t appearing,” said Matthew Zeigler, an attorney for Republican Chris Hackett’s campaign for the 10th Congressional District. “We were concerned that people’s votes weren’t counted. The overall goal of us being here is to make sure that anything that documented what the votes were is preserved.”

The county had all the numbers, which are still unofficial at this point, tallied by 10:30 p.m.

Clausi said later this week, the county will find out from Saylor how to proceed with an official vote count. The county must release an official count by Friday.

Jones said the problems encountered Tuesday and the impounding of the voting machines should not delay the release of the official results Friday.

On the other side of Atlanta in South Fulton County, all voting machines at the Bible Way Ministries precinct went down for about an hour and then the polling place ran out of printed ballots and paper provisional ballots. The voting machines were working again an hour later.

Carol Coney, a NAACP volunteer monitoring voting at Bible Way Ministries and at other polling places, said the problem was caused by a poll worker installing the wrong card to boot up the machines. Coney said most of the voters there at the time were senior citizens who had to vote on paper ballots, while they lasted.

Voters at four precincts in Rockdale County nearly had to make their choices by candlelight after the polling stations temporarily lost power. T he precincts had voting machines with batteries as backup power sources.

The outage occurred in and around downtown Conyers at 5:35 p.m., said Melvin Allen, vice president of engineering for Snapping Shoals Electric Membership Corp., which serves the area. The power was back in an hour, he said.

The outage affected the Honey Creek, Flat Shoals, St. Pius and Stanton precincts, said Jennifer Buse, the Rockdale County Board of Elections’ administrative clerk. No one had to wait to cast ballots, she said.

And in College Park, poll workers at Clifton Dale Community House were not giving provisional ballots to voters who did not have a government ID, according to Clare Schexnyder with Georgia Election Protection.

She said the group’s lawyers were trying to resolve the problem by contacting county and state election officials.

Carrothers disputed that claim.

“According to our monitor, provisional ballots have not been denied to any voter who required them,” Carrothers said. She said precinct did not run out of the ballots.

The law requires that voters be allowed to vote paper provisional ballots if they do not have photo IDs or if there are problems with their registration. Voters have 48 hours to resolve the problem for their votes to be counted.

Non-partisan Election Protection, the ACLU Voting Rights Project and the Governor’s Office for Consumer Affairs, which is taking election-related calls, said many of the queries involve poll location, registration and identification requirements.

The ACLU Voting Rights Project, which is headquartered in Atlanta, said its phones have been ringing constantly with calls from voters nationwide. Bill Cloud, spokesman for the Governor’s Office for Consumer Affairs, said wait time on the state’s phone lines was about 80 seconds.

There also have been problems reported involving absentee ballots.

Schexnyder said one caller said her paper absentee ballot was delivered only this morning via FedEx. Paper absentee ballots, which are ordinarily mailed back to elections offices, must be at county offices by 7 p.m. today in order to be counted.

Staff writer Mark Davis contributed to this story.

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