Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Machine that lost votes in N.C. did same in Pennsylvania

The Associated Press, Sunday, January 23, 2005



The same model of voting machine that lost 4,438 votes in Carteret County also erased votes in three Pennsylvania counties, officials in that state said.

"We continue to be uncertain about these machines," said Michael Coulter, who heads an independent committee examining voting machine mishaps in Mercer County, Pa., where he said machines in 13 precincts erased some voters' choices.

Mercer County, as well as Beaver and Greene counties along the Ohio border, use the Unilect Patriot voting machine. The electronic mechanism, which does not produce a paper ballot, is the same model that lost votes on the Nov. 2 Election Day in coastal Carteret County.

The Carteret votes were lost because the machine's memory was incorrectly set.

The Pennsylvania malfunction "sure does raise questions," said North Carolina Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange, who co-chairs a special committee examining electronic voting machines.

The committee is drafting legislation that could recommend the use of voting machines that include a paper ballot that can be examined afterward to correct errors.

All three of the western Pennsylvania counties recorded a high percentage of "undervotes" for president, which occurs when a voter doesn't vote in that race. Mercer County's undervote was 7.8 percent, four times higher than in 2000, when they used old, lever machines.

Similar problems occurred in Burke County, the only other North Carolina county that uses Unilect machines.

State lawmakers are scrutinizing why more than 10 percent of Burke County voters were recorded as not making a choice in the presidential race, an "undervote" rate that is four to five times as high as nearly all the other counties in the state.

A member of the Burke County board of elections assisted a voter who had touched the screen to vote for president and vice president, but didn't realize that her vote selected the candidates for both of those offices. When she touched the screen a second time, thinking she was voting for vice president, her choice was unselected.

"We've seen no evidence that (the presidential undervote) was the machine's fault," said Greer Suttlemyre, director of the Burke County board of elections.

State Board of Elections officials concluded that voters were confused by the straight party ticket selection and that it does not include the presidential candidate from that party.

The California-based manufacturer also blamed human error for the Pennsylvania mishaps.

"We didn't have anything to do with" the Pennsylvania malfunction, said Jack Gerbel, president of Unilect, highlighting a programming error by Mercer County's elections director.

Gerbel said the machine is not confusing for voters, but explained that a pop-up window has been added to the electronic display in Michigan to tell voters who pick a straight-party ticket that they can skip ahead to the nonpartisan races. That helps avoid their touching any individual races and deactivating their choice.

"We're going to have to suggest to our customers," Gerbel said, "to do a better job of training the poll workers to train the voters."

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