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Most counties didn't test voting machines  (KY)

Patrick Crowley  The Cincinnati Enquirer  November 22, 2008

Election officials in Kenton County and most of Kentucky have repeatedly violated state regulations requiring the testing of some voting machines before elections.

The tests were not performed in Kenton County or any of the nearly 100 other counties including Boone and Campbell counties that use voting machines provided by Lexington-based Harp Enterprises, the company's president told the Kentucky Board of Elections yesterday.

A test that local officials are required to perform would have almost certainly detected a programming error made by Harp Enterprises that rendered nearly 80 of its E-slate machines incapable of tabulating straight-ticket voting on Election Day in Kenton County.

While most of Kentucky's 120 counties use Harp's voting machines, only Kenton County experienced the straight-ticket voting problem this year.

But none of the counties are apparently following the state regulations that require voting machines to be tested.

"None of these counties physically take their voting machine and start testing it and see what it is supposed to do," said Roger Baird, Harp's president, who repeatedly during the 90-minute meeting apologized profusely for the programming error.

Members of the State Board of Elections including Secretary of State Trey Grayson of Boone County and state board Executive Director Sarah Ball Johnson said the situation is unacceptable and must be corrected in future elections.

Board members also stressed that county election officials are trained and instructed to test the machines. But a combination of the sophistication of the computerized machines, the cost of testing devices and other issues has led to a situation where election regulations are being ignored, Grayson said.

"We want to move forward," Grayson said, "and make sure this does not happen again."

There was no discussion of penalties, although the board made it clear it wanted all machines tested in the future.

Acting on a motion by member Greg Shumate, a Fort Mitchell lawyer, the board voted to form a task force to come up with a solution that ensures the machines are tested before elections. The task force will include representatives of Harp, members of the board of elections and county election officials, including county clerks.

The task force will emphasize that county election officials must follow the regulations, board members said.

Kenton County Clerk Rodney Eldridge, who attended yesterday's meeting at the state board offices in Frankfort, volunteered to serve on the task force or, at the very least, provide information to it.

"I want to make sure no county has to ever go through this again," Eldridge said, stressing that every vote was counted on Election Day.

Just hours after the polls opened in Kenton County on Nov. 4, voters began reporting problems with straight ticket voting in statehouse races to the clerk's office and to precinct workers. At about 9:30 a.m. the board ordered the E-slate machines taken out of service.

But even after the county clerk's office contacted precinct workers by phone and in person, voting on the E-slate machines at some precincts continued into the afternoon.

When asked yesterday by board member George Russell why the voting continued, Eldridge could not provide an answer other than that he believed every precinct had been contacted.

The day after the election, Kenton Circuit Judge Patricia Summe ordered a hand count of the straight-ticket votes cast on the machines. Of particular interest was a close state Senate race between Republican Sen. Jack Westwood of Crescent Springs and Covington Democrat Kathy Groob.

The hand count and a subsequent recanvass, basically a recheck of the count, showed Westwood with an 807-vote victory out of more than 40,000 votes cast. Earlier this week the Kentucky Democratic Party formally conceded the race.

Baird said the problem was caused by a programming error made by Harp Enterprises.

"It is unbelievable that this happened," Baird said. "But we recovered every single ballot. Not one single vote was lost in Kenton County. Not one single voter was disenfranchised.

"I am going to take responsibility," he said. "What happened was wrong and I am sorry."

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