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Snafus slow vote count in Berkeley County

May 13, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Only a few weary candidates remained in the Berkeley County courthouse just after 1 a.m. Wednesday, when final primary election results were announced.

A handful of problems slowed the process.

The streetlights outside the courthouse went out suddenly as messengers brought in ballots from the county's 59 precincts, said County Clerk John Small.

Because it was too dark to see, the cars could not be unloaded. Small said he called the Martinsburg Fire Department, and within minutes they brought a truck with lights.

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Later, the ballot counting machine's "hopper switch" ceased to work properly, slowing the counting. The switch on the 1973 machine causes a burst of air to push the ballots further in to be counted, Small said.

Berkeley County Sheriff's Department deputies brought in a backup machine from Jefferson County, but the same problem occurred, Small said. Counting was slowed, but not stalled altogether, he said.

Overheating likely caused both switches to malfunction, Small said.

Other problems included a set of keys being accidentally locked inside a ballot box and poll workers calling in the day before the election, sick or otherwise unable to work, Small said. Replacement poll workers were found at the last minute.

Otherwise, Small said the night went fairly smoothly and ballots and voting machines were brought into the courthouse at a good pace. A section of King Street in front of the courthouse was closed to traffic to allow messengers to drop off the items.

The first poll workers to arrive were from Precinct 8, at the Ramer Center just a few blocks away. They nearly always are the first to reach the courthouse, Small said.

More than two hours after the polls closed, election officials brought in the ballots from Precinct 52, the Berkeley County Youth Fairgrounds. They were the last to be dropped off.

Altogether, 9,985 of the county's 47,706 registered voters cast ballots in the primary election.

More than 500 people voted during the early voting period from April 21 through May 8. Those votes and absentee ballots were counted with the regular ballots cast Tuesday, Small said.

Small said he does not know how many challenged ballots will be tallied during Friday's canvass. In past years, he said, each precinct typically has five or six.

The challenged ballots are in a sealed envelope and will not be opened until the canvass. None of the county races was so close that the canvass will decide a winner.

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