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Vote canvass preparations get under way in Berkeley

November 09, 2000

Vote canvass preparations get under way in Berkeley



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Berkeley County Commission Thursday prepared for next week's canvass of Tuesday's vote and said that machine problems had no effect on the integrity of the balloting.

Two vote-counting machines broke down and a third barely worked as the county took almost 12 hours from the time polls closed to count the ballots. The commissioners said that despite procedural problems from the May primary election and past machine problems, the county runs honest, fair campaigns.

"When I first came on the commission about 20 years ago, there were some parts of Berkeley County that were questionable and some actions that were questionable," Commissioner John Wright said at the regular commission meeting Thursday. "But attrition has taken care of that. I'm tired of taking hits when they don't deserve it. We have had problems. But we have worked through them. And never has there been a hint of dishonesty or anything dishonorable."

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The campaigns of Shelley Moore Capito and Democrat Jim Humphreys for Congress both expressed concern Tuesday night at the problems in Berkeley County. Commissioner Robert Burkhart said the Capito campaign called the West Virginia State Police, who called the Martinsburg Police because they believed county officials had left the ballots unsecured and gone home while waiting for the machine problems to be fixed.

Instead, the three County Commissioners, their attorney, key election officials and election workers sat in the courthouse in the same room with the ballots until they got a machine that worked, said Commissioner Robert Burkhart.

"We secured and waited" for the new machine, Burkhart said.

Neither the Capito or Humphreys campaigns could be reached for comment. Capito won the race.

Commission attorney Norwood Bentley, IV, said statements by campaign officials were far off the mark from what actually happened.

"They were statements made out of total ignorance," he said.

He also complained about the quality of the machines, which he tried to fix election night.

"I have a son that could have put together a machine better than that," he said.

"I'm sure the commissioners are aggravated with us and I can understand why," said Geoff Ryan, senior vice president of Election Systems and Software Inc. in Omaha, Neb. He attributed the situation to "bad luck."

"We have to look at the tabulators to see what the problems are," he said. "We don't take this lightly at all. Some of these machines are older than others. But with maintenance and parts replacement, there is no reason they shouldn't work."

The company was to fly someone into Berkeley County Thursday to repair the machines. The commissioners will do the canvass - called for in law for all elections - beginning at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.

A technician from the company will be present in case the vote-counting machines fail again. The commissioners decided to count every ballot, even though state law does not require it.

The commissioners also said they will investigate new ways to conduct elections. The vote-counting machinery is getting old and less than one-quarter of West Virginia's 55 counties use it.

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