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Canvass in Craven won’t be complete until Monday  (NC)

Sue Book   ENC Today.Com   14 November 2008

Four state elections board officials spent the day in Craven County on Friday trying to find out why the final vote tally remains incomplete.

The votes were recompiled by 7 p.m. with hand recounts of several large one-stop voting sites in Craven's 2008 election and a machine recount of more than 3,030 mailed-in absentee ballots.

The results appear to be 3,328 higher than unofficial results originally reported but would change no election winners. Craven County Board of Elections has not completed its canvass to certify the new numbers as official results but they now reflect ballots from 44,684 voters, or 65.53 percent of those registered.

North Carolina's official canvass day is 10 days following the General Election, which was Friday.

North Carolina State Board of Elections Director Gary Bartlett called the elections board office about 5:30 p.m. He advised the staff to complete tasks they were working on and the board to recess its canvass and begin again on Monday.

Work is expected to be complete and the election results certified before the end of the day on Monday, said Rosemary Blizzard, state district seven elections technician who is conducting the audit here. "This is within the law. It is not a common thing but it has happened."

Blizzard worked all day Thursday and early Friday and said she was "still trying to reconcile the voters to the ballots" from results skewed for several reasons.

"There has never been a question of the votes not being counted," Blizzard said. "A coding error with the software made it unable to correctly read the data."

In the 2004 General Election, neighboring Carteret County lost 4,438 votes cast at one-stop sites that were never found.

Coding is done by voting machine and software manufacturer Electronic Systems and Software. It is distributed locally by Print Elect of New Bern and three company technicians also assisted in the data recovery. They jury-rigged an M-650 rapid counter with a paper clip to help speed up the absentee ballot counting process.

The voting machines were tested but apparently their software's working compatibility with the software was not adequately tested, Blizzard said. Four ballot styles reflecting the district in which voters of particular precinct could participate and the "Geo-codes" were not entered correctly and produced reporting problems.

The problems, but not the reason for the problems, became apparent early on Election night, said Tonya Pitts, Craven County elections director.

"This delay is due to an assortment of things, precinct officials, internal personnel, equipment hardware and software," Pitts said. "It has been a lengthy process and all of those issues will be addressed after the canvass so it will not happen again."

Ray Wood, elections board secretary, said he felt like his part in this election was almost done: "I wanted every person to have a chance to vote and that vote to be counted."

Political party observers, Frank Carlson for Democrats and Mike Speciale for Republicans, said they were satisfied with the work done to get an accurate vote count.

"Overall, I think the board of elections did a great job," Speciale said. "On Election Day they took a lot of calls and kept things from being issues because they took care of problems the right way."

Carlson said "I echo those sentiments. I'm satisfied thus far and waiting to see what the results will be on Monday. The turnout is increasing but the technology is not."

"This election was like none I've ever seen," said Esther Hardin, Craven County Board of Elections Chairman. "People stood in line for hours without complaint. It was a good time to be part of the process but more work than I thought."

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