By Kim Zetter, Wired News, 03/12/04
Napa County in Northern California said on Friday that electronic voting machines used in the March presidential primary failed to record votes on some of its paper ballots, which will force the county to re-scan over 11,000 ballots and possibly change the outcome of some close local races.
The problem occurred with optical scan machines manufactured by Sequoia Voting Systems, which failed to record voters' marks off of paper ballots. The county used the company's Optech system for processing paper absentee ballots.
Napa Registrar of Voters John Tuteur said they discovered the problem on Thursday while conducting a manual recount of 1 percent of precincts, to verify accuracy, a statewide practice. Tuteur said after counting a sample of 60 paper ballots from one precinct, officials discovered that the number of votes did not match the number of votes the machine recorded for that precinct. After re-scanning 10 of the ballots, they discovered that the machine wasn't recording certain votes.
Sequoia spokesman Alfie Charles said the problem wasn't with his company's machines. "It was a procedural error on the part of the people who were setting up the equipment," he said.
Specifically, the machine was calibrated to detect carbon-based ink, but not dye-based ink commonly used in gel pens, Charles said. Prior to the election, a Sequoia technician ran test ballots through the machine to calibrate its reading sensitivity, but failed to test for gel ink.
At least one close race could be overturned. Incumbent county supervisor Mike Rippey narrowly lost his re-election bid by only 50 votes.
"At this point in time we have no confidence in the results coming out of these machines," said Rippey's campaign spokeswoman Linda Scott. "What concerns us the most is that the count is so close on the absentee ballots that it could sway the election results."
The primary was the third time the county had used the Sequoia machine, Tuteur said.
"We don't know if this problem has occurred before but we're not aware of any other problems," he said.