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Berkeley vote tally hits snag

May 10, 2006|By ROBERT SNYDER

MARTINSBURG, W.VA.

Practice tests throughout the day on new voting machine equipment promised smooth sailing for tallying primary election ballots in Berkeley County, W.Va., on Tuesday, but problems with an optical scan machine ballot tabulator delayed election results for several hours, leaving candidates and supporters alike milling about the Berkeley County Courthouse until almost midnight.

Complete but unofficial results were announced a few minutes before midnight Tuesday. Just an hour earlier, only absentee, early voting and electronic voting machine totals had been counted for 50 of the county's 65 precincts.

Results came in fairly quickly once the election equipment began operating properly.

But at 9:45 p.m., without a single precinct counted, Berkeley County Clerk John Small and County Commission President Howard Strauss called an impromptu press conference and promised a long night.

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"The good news is the county clerk's office is moving along," Strauss said. "The bad news is, it's going to be a long evening."

Strauss said the delay was a result of incorrect software being loaded into the optical scan system. Once the correct software was loaded, the voting tabulator began working correctly, Strauss said.

The election night problems were only the latest for Berkeley County election officials, who earlier were unable to use the new touch-screen voting machines for early voting because of delays in getting programmed ballots.

Late last week, the machines had not been successfully tested, causing uncertainty about whether the new electronic machines would be available for use Tuesday, and setting the stage for the election night delays.

The delays provoked a strong reaction last week from Secretary of State Betty Ireland, who bashed Nebraska-based Election Systems and Software for biting off more than it could chew.

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