Associated Press, November 4, 2004
JACKSONVILLE, North Carolina -- More than 4,500 votes have been lost in one North Carolina county because officials believed a computer that stored ballots electronically could hold more data than it did. Scattered other problems may change results in races around the state.
Local officials said UniLect, the maker of the county's electronic voting system, told them that each storage unit could handle 10,500 votes, but the limit was actually 3,005 votes.
Expecting the greater capacity, the county used only one unit during the early voting period. "If we had known, we would have had the units to handle the votes," said Sue Verdon, secretary of the county election board.
Officials said 3,005 early votes were stored, but 4,530 were lost.
Jack Gerbel, president and owner of Dublin, California-based UniLect, said Thursday that the county's elections board was given incorrect information. There is no way to retrieve the missing data, he said.
"That is the situation and it's definitely terrible," he said.
In a letter to county officials, he blamed the mistake on confusion over which model of the voting machines was in use in Carteret County. But he also noted that the machines flash a warning message when there is no more room for storing ballots.
"Evidently, this message was either ignored or overlooked," he wrote.
County election officials were meeting Thursday with Gary Bartlett, executive director of the State Board of Elections, and did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.
This isn't the first time that North Carolina experienced this problem. In early voting for the 2002 general election, touch-screen voting machines made by a different company, Election Systems & Software, failed to record ballots cast by 436 voters.
The company said the problem was a software glitch that caused the machines to believe the memory cards were full when they actually weren't. Like UniLect, ES&S claimed that the machines flashed a warning to voters telling them the memory was full but it did not prevent voters from continuing to cast ballots, something that critics say any voting machine should do.
This year's lost votes didn't appear to change the outcome of county races, but that wasn't the issue for Alecia Williams, who voted on one of the final days of the early voting period.
"The point is not whether the votes would have changed things, it's that they didn't get counted at all," Williams said.