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Franklin County employees scratch Nader from ballots

October 28, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Working in teams of two, 90 Franklin County employees worked Wednesday night to black out the name of Independent Party candidate Ralph Nader from all 85,000 ballots for Tuesday's general election.

While the employees marked off the Nader ticket and the spot on the paper ballots for an Independent Party straight vote, another 10 staff members were checking the work, County Commissioner Cheryl Plummer said.

"We did catch a couple that weren't marked," Deputy Chief Clerk Jean Byers said about an hour into the process. Just in case a few ballots are missed, Byers said one of the special felt-tipped markers used to cross off Nader's name will be included with the box of election supplies that goes to the judge of elections at each of the 75 precinct polling places in the county.

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"I think we can get it done tonight. I really do," said Plummer. If not, the volunteers will be back again once county offices close at 4:30 p.m. today.

The county printed up the ballots with Nader on them because of a series of challenges and appeals that left it unclear whether the consumer advocate and politician would be allowed on the ballot in Pennsylvania, Plummer said.

The state election calendar required counties to begin mailing absentee ballots by Oct. 19 and a decision had to be made before that date because it takes about five days to have the ballots printed, sorted by precinct, packaged and shipped, Byers said.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Oct. 19 denied Nader's appeal to be placed on the ballot. Saturday, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal.

The Pennsylvania Department of State claimed Nader did not have enough valid signatures on petitions to qualify to be on the ballot.

Those who received absentee ballots and voted for Nader will have their votes counted as write-ins, Plummer said. Voters on Tuesday can still pencil in Nader's name in the space provided for a write-in candidate on the regular ballots, Plummer said.

"We thought about printing two sets of ballots, but that second set would have cost us in excess of $20,000," Plummer said. She estimated the county will pay a few thousand in overtime for the pay the county volunteers will receive.

The county also provided pizza, chips and soda, although no food was allowed in the two rooms in the Administrative Annex where the teams were working.

The ballots are in tablet form with a perforated strip and are torn from the tablet and handed to voters before they go into the polling booth. To ease the process Wednesday, one member of each team flips the pages while the other inks out Nader and the Independent Party.

The public test of the optical scanning system to count the paper ballots will be held at noon Friday in the Planning Office conference room in the Annex, Plummer said.

The system, in use since the late 1980s, has always proven accurate, Byers said. During the official count after each election, she said the board of election does a hand count of 2 percent of the ballots and compares that with the machine count.

Byers said the hand and machine counts have always matched.

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