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Who wins the race in Ashland? (OR)
Problems with ballot count continue to confound county elections officials;
Navickas-Lemhouse race up in air
By Damian Mann, Mail Tribune, November 14, 2006

Jackson County elections officials were still mystified Monday over a ballot miscount in an Ashland precinct that has left one City Council race up in the air.

County Clerk Kathy Beckett was hoping to tally up the results Monday, but problems with election scanning equipment continued to bedevil her staff, leaving the Ashland City Council race between Eric Navickas and Greg Lemhouse too close to call with Lemhouse only 245 votes ahead.

"There are things going on with these machines that shouldn't happen," said Beckett, who nevertheless expressed confidence that the final results would be accurate.

Two new Elections System and Software 550 scanning machines have been put out of commission because they were involved in the miscount of Precinct 2 in Ashland, which is above Siskiyou Boulevard from the northern boundary of the city up to Ashland Street.

In addition, ballots jammed during the election as they were fed into the four 550 counting scanners, creating headaches for Elections Center staff.

And though the Elections Center upgraded the machines to read blue ink and black ink, the scanners didn't work as Beckett had hoped.

"They said they would count blue ink, but it counts some blue ink but not all," she said. "We found out that the black Bic pens had too much red in them." The scanners don't read red, so these ballots had to be counted manually.

As a result of the problems, Beckett said voters may have to go back to using No. 2 pencils to fill in their ballots in future elections.

Beckett said extensive testing was conducted on the equipment before the election and all the systems worked flawlessly. However, ballots sent to the Elections Center by voters had been folded, stuffed in envelopes or had been damaged, a situation that wasn't replicated during the testing procedure. "We didn't test ballots that had coffee stains on them," said Beckett.

She said she doubted the certified count issued Nov. 27 will change the outcome of any races outside Ashland. "I don't think so, but I don't know that for a fact," she said.

Beckett is prepared for a likely recount in the Lemhouse/Navickas race. "There will be a recount in that race I can almost guarantee that now," she said. Navickas had pulled ahead in a later count that has since been disqualified because of the problems with Precinct 2.

Jackson County Elections Supervisor Donna Connor personally ran the ballots for Precinct 2 in Ashland Monday, constantly monitoring the systems in a painstaking effort to detect even the slightest hiccup.

Connor said the sort of problem that popped up on election night was similar to what occurs after a power outage. "But, there is no evidence of a power outage" occurring in the Elections Center, she said.

The computer appeared to add votes in some races in Ashland, while in others subtracted them, although even that was difficult to determine.

Elections officials spent the weekend pulling out the Ashland Precinct 2 ballots that were interspersed in the other ballots received during the election.

"We're exhausted," said Beckett. "But we'll get through this."

Meanwhile, workers were sifting through the stacks of ballots that couldn't be read by the machines.

Medford resident Roseann Wagner, a Democrat, and her Republican counterpart, Nancy Irwin of Medford, on Monday tried to decipher a ballot that had gotten wet and wrinkled. They also looked at other problem ballots, including some in which a voter had crossed out a choice.

Wagner and Irwin said they both have to approve the interpretation of a voter's intent before the ballot can be recalculated.

"That's the way it works," said Wagner. "We have to agree."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.

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