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Ogden, Weber County pretty sure one of them can't count ... ballots (UT)
Standard-Examiner. November 4, 2009. By Scott Schwebke (Standard-Examiner staff)
Original: http://www.standard.net/topics/elections/2009/11/04/ogden-weber-county-pretty-sure-one-them-cant-count-ballots

OGDEN Weber County and Ogden officials are bickering over who is to blame for a lengthy delay in counting city ballots during Tuesday's general election.

Mark Johnson, the city's management services director, said the inability of county election workers to properly operate optical scanning equipment is the reason the city was unable to post results to its Web site until after 2:30 a.m. Wednesday.

"They didn't know what they were doing," Johnson said. "It doesn't matter which system we used. It's a matter of a competence issue over there. It (the ballot-counting contract with the county) cost $60,000. I'm not sure we got our money's worth."

However, Gloria Berrett, Weber County elections administrator, defended her staff's abilities.

City officials knew that using the optical scan system to count ballots would be slower than the county's more expensive electronic voting system, Berrett said.

"Now they are trying to throw us under the bus," she said, adding that she didn't want to get into a fight with Johnson through the media. "They got what we told them we were going to give."

The delay in getting vote totals also frustrated some candidates, including City Councilman Jesse Garcia, who stayed up until 4 a.m. monitoring Ogden's Web site to learn if he had won a fifth term.

"There is no way it should take that long (to get ballot results)," said Garcia, who lost the Ward 1 race to challenger Neil K. Garner by 18 votes, based on the unofficial vote tally.

Ogden Recorder Cindi Mansell told the Standard-Examiner the city agreed to contract with the county to use its optical scanning system to count ballots because it was cheaper than the $120,000 price tag for the electronic system.

The city also opted for the optical scanning system because county officials promised its equipment could count up to 5,000 ballots an hour, Mansell said. During Tuesday's election, 6,232 ballots were cast in Ogden.

However, because of some programming issues and problems with an automatic ballot feeder, the city's votes weren't counted until about midnight Tuesday and results weren't posted on the city's Web site until about 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, Mansell said.

A large number of ballots slowed the optical scanning system, Berrett said. In addition to counting all of Ogden's ballots, the system was also used to tally absentee votes for South Ogden, Riverdale and Farr West.

In addition, an automatic feeder kept jamming, which meant ballots had to be ed into the device by hand, Berrett said. "Hand-feeding was a slower process."

Johnson doesn't buy that the optical scan system was the cause of the counting delay.

He noted that, in the 2007 election, when the city contracted with the county to use its electronic system, it took more than a week for Mayor Matthew Godfrey to be declared the winner over Susan Van Hooser, who was elected Tuesday to the city council.

Berrett said the delay in the 2007 mayoral election results wasn't the result of a counting issue, but rather because of a large number of provisional ballots.

Mark Thomas, office administrator for the Utah Lieutenant Governor's Office, said the state spent about $26 million to purchase 7,500 electronic voting machines and 75 optical scanning devices that have been distributed to Utah's 29 counties.

Optical scanners work best when used to count paper absentee and provisional ballots, while electronic voting machines are best employed at polling places, he said.

Optical scanners and electronic voting machines will likely be used in tandem throughout Utah until at least 2015, Thomas said.

In the meantime, he said, there has been discussion among some state election officials about establishing a warehouse that could provide counties with parts for election machines that break down.

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