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Greenbrier canvass is halted    (WV)

Christian Giggenbach    The Register-Herald    11 November 2008

LEWISBURG — Election officials Monday in Greenbrier County halted the canvassing of last week’s general election after a discrepancy of more than 300 votes was found in totals from last Tuesday’s unofficial count.

Combined with late entry absentee ballots and challenged ballots, over 500 votes have yet to be officially counted or thrown out, leaving the sheriff’s race, a $40 million school bond levy, and the special Greenbrier resort limited gaming referendum hanging in the balance.

Greenbrier County Clerk B.J. Livesay said Monday the possible missing votes are believed to have been cast during early voting and come from the Lewisburg courthouse precinct 41.

To help resolve the problem, an official from the Secretary of State’s office will be at the courthouse Wednesday morning, Livesay said.

“When all the ballots for early voting were tabulated Tuesday night, we came up with 2,777,” Livesay said. “But now we believe that about 340 votes may not have been counted. I am unsure how to explain why.”

Last Wednesday, county clerk officials said 13,623 votes had been cast and 167 of those votes were challenged by poll workers as “provisional” ballots. Most challenged ballots are the result of voting in the wrong precinct.

The casino gaming referendum passed by only 366 votes, Republican Jim Childers defeated Democrat Bruce Hosey by 288 votes in the sheriff’s race, and a $40 million school bond levy passed by the slimmest of margins, only 88 votes. All three could potentially have different outcomes after the official count has been declared.

When reached by phone Monday evening, Childers was concerned about the possibility that 300 votes had not been counted.

“I’m disappointed, to be honest with you. I haven’t felt comfortable all week and I just had some kind of feeling that something was not right and to have this happen just reaffirms it,” Childers said. “I’m not confident that I have won this election and I can’t believe that in this day and age our county could go this long and we still don’t know who the winner is.”

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This election snafu will not be blamed on hanging chads, but most likely will be the result of a high-tech problem dealing with the voting machine’s “flash cards.”

According to a Web site by Electronic Systems and Software, the makers of the state’s electronic voting machines, poll workers use a device called a Personal Electronic Ballot which turns the electronic voting machines on and allows votes to be recorded onto three internal flash card memory sticks inside the machine and a fourth removable flash card.

A poll worker closes the polls by using the PEB with a password to enter a supervisory menu on each machine and then summary vote totals are transmitted to the PEB via infrared signals. The PEB for that precinct and any flash cards are then physically transported to a central tabulation facility, the Web site said.

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Greenbrier County Commissioner Brad Tuckwiller said the canvassing board will start from scratch early Wednesday and hopefully find where the error is located. The county uses 97 electronic voting machines for its 30 precincts.

“The purpose of the canvass is to find any errors and also to look at the provisional ballots,” Tuckwiller said Monday. “In the course of our canvassing, we have gone through the flash cards and we came up with a discrepancy. Today we focused on the process of putting each flash card into our computers to see if the 97 machines equaled what the election night totals were.”

Commission president Lowell Rose said it’s too early to tell why there’s a vote discrepancy, but he’s determined to find its cause.

“We are bringing the Secretary of State’s office in here to walk us through this to make sure we do everything right,” Rose said Monday. “We don’t want anyone questioning this election and we don’t want anyone to feel that anything was intentionally done wrong. We will work hard until we find the discrepancy.”

At stake for Greenbrier County Schools Superintendent John Curry is nearly $40 million for new school projects and an additional $10.6 million in a School Building Authority grant steered toward Greenbrier West High School.

“When at first there were just 163 provisional ballots and about 20-25 late absentee ballots, we were fairly optimistic that if the voting trend continued the school bond passage would not be affected,” Curry said by phone Monday.

“But when we found out about precinct 41 and that 341 early votes may not have been counted, when combined with the other ballots, that brings it to an outstanding vote count of better than 500. Right now, the only thing to do is wait and see. I have my fingers crossed.”

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