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Officials hope voting machines up to the challenge today

May 09, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Jefferson County officials on Monday wrestled with problems in a new ballot-counting machine and initially said that ballots in today's primary election might have to be counted by hand, a process that could take two days.

Jefferson County Clerk Jennifer Maghan said late Monday that the problem had been corrected and she believed that a hand count will not be necessary.

Despite Maghan's comments, Jefferson County Commission member Jane Tabb said she thinks a hand count is still possible until the commission assesses the situation.

"I'm hopeful, but I've got to have some proof," Tabb said Monday night.

Commission member Dale Manuel said he wants to take a "good hard look" at the situation to make sure the integrity of the system is intact.

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Commission members met Monday in the Jefferson County Courthouse to certify that the vote-counting machine was working properly, commission members said.

State officials provided the county with a set of test ballots to run through the machine, Tabb said.

The ballot-counting machine was supposed to yield the same results that were arrived at when the ballots were counted in Charleston, W.Va., but it did not, Tabb said.

Maghan said she believes the problems stemmed from ovals that were not filled in completely on the ballots. Voters can use new touch-screen voting machines or new paper ballots today. With paper ballots, voters will fill in ovals beside the candidate's name with a pen to make their vote. Maghan encouraged voters to fill in the ovals completely today when selecting candidates.

Testing of voting equipment was to be completed by noon Monday. Since Jefferson County was having problems, a request was made to extend the deadline and Berkeley County Circuit Court Judge Christopher Wilkes ruled that Jefferson County could have until 5 p.m. today to test equipment, said Tabb and Commission President Greg Corliss.

A technician from ES&S, the company that provided the machine, was working on the problem late Monday afternoon and the county commission is scheduled to meet with the technician today at 10 a.m. to determine if the machine can be used or whether ballots will have to be counted by hand, commission members said.

Commission members, Maghan, the ES&S technician, Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Michael D. Thompson and Jefferson County Assessor Ginger Bordier were in the commission meeting room Monday afternoon discussing the situation.

The equipment glitch came during a closely-watched 11-way race for four seats on the Jefferson County Board of Education. The race has piqued interest because of issues involving funding for new schools and other topics.

The nonpartisan race will be decided in the primary.

Voters in the Eastern Panhandle will head to the polls today and will be able to cast ballots from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Berkeley County also has new voting machines and Bonnie Woodfall, supervisor of elections in Berkeley County, said Monday that new voting equipment has been tested and is ready to go.

"We're just keeping our fingers crossed," Woodfall said.

Although Woodfall declined to speculate on a voter turnout percentage for today, she said she believes it will be light.

Berkeley County's only contested race is on the Republican side as five candidates are seeking the GOP nomination for one open seat on the Berkeley County Commission. Sonny Brown, the only Democratic candidate for the seat, died Friday.

Debbie Kesecker, Morgan County Clerk, said the Ivotronic touch-screen voting machines are in all the precincts and no problems have been found with the machines.

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