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Berkeley vote count stalled

restart begins today

November 08, 2000

Berkeley vote count stalled; restart begins today



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W. Va. - Two vote-counting machines failed Tuesday night in Berkeley County, delaying final unofficial results until possibly today near sunrise, officials said.

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Berkeley election officials said early today that once Jefferson County finished with its vote counting machines, those machines would be used to count the Berkeley County ballots. One estimate was that the count would resume between 3 a.m. and 3:30 a.m. today.

At midnight in the basement of the Berkeley County Courthouse, county Commission Chairman D. Wayne Dunham and the commission's attorney, Norwood Bentley IV, both dressed in suits and ties, were hunched over the back of a backup vote-counting machine, screwdrivers in hand, trying to finish counting ballots from Tuesday's election

More than three hours after the polls had closed, the county had counted only 16 of 46 precincts.

That's because their first machine counting ballots broke down. They sent for a backup from adjacent Jefferson County, pulled it out of a box, plugged it in, and got the same result.

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"Both machines had the same problem, they were jamming the cards" voters use to punch out their preferences while voting, said County Clerk John Small.

Dunham elaborated.

"We had a problem at first with the machine punching out some of the holes on the cards right," he said as he scurried to the downstairs room filled with election workers waiting to finish their task. "We got that fixed and then after five or six precincts, it started jamming the cards."

So they went to Jefferson County, which had the backup machine in case something like this occurred in either county.

When that didn't work, an election worker called the company where they get the machines. The technician was out of ideas - except to call one place familiar with election peculiarities.

"He said he would call Chicago," Dunham said.

The commission has faced an unpleasant year trying to sort through elections.

A May election resulted in such a close race for circuit court judge. It resulted in charges of sloppy procedures and mishandling of ballots. The ballots were counted five times and the issue was sent to a court hearing on appeal by the losing candidate and then to the state Supreme Court, which refused to hear the challenge to the election.

The commissioners were in the middle of that controversy when they put in place a number of changes to make elections run more smoothy.

"We did all that and now the machines break down," Dunham said.

Bentley, who had to do all the legal work on the earlier election case, shook his head at Tuesday's problems.

"I guess next time we'll just have to have the technician here if something like this happens," he said.

The machines are rented for $6,950 an election, Small said. They were tested a week ago and tested Tuesday morning and they worked. There was no such luck when they were supposed to work, however.

"This is a great sendoff," said Dunham, who is leaving the commission in January after six years.

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