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Election officials hope to learn from primary

May 11, 2006|by ROBERT SNYDER

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Election officials in Berkeley County said they would give their efforts a passing grade, despite a glitch that left votes uncounted for hours, delaying the outcome of Tuesday's primary election deep into the night.

"I think we can do a whole lot better," Berkeley County elections supervisor Bonnie Woodfall said Wednesday, assigning a grade of C+ to the office's efforts to get results tabulated and the vote counts released.

Woodfall said the election's delay was caused by incorrect software being loaded into the scanning machine that collected the results of an optical scan voting system, which was one of two new systems the county purchased as a result of the implementation of the Help America Vote Act of 2002. When the correct software was loaded into the scanning machine, the election totals were tallied quickly, she said.

"Once the problems were resolved, it was lickety-split," Woodfall said of the election counts.

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Many of the results from the county's 65 electronic touch-screen voting devices, as well as absentee and early-voting ballots, had been counted within an hour after County Clerk John Small and county commission President Howard Strauss gathered candidates, voters and the media in an upstairs courtroom at the downtown courthouse to announce that delays could be expected.

On Wednesday, elections Deputy Clerk Tammy Devlin said the electronic voting devices performed perfectly in almost all precincts, with some problems being caused when paper rolls used to record tallies became dislodged in transport.

Turnout was light for Tuesday's election, with only about 14 percent, or 7,969, of Berkeley County's 56,660 registered voters casting a ballot, and more than 2,200 less than that electing to vote for a new county commissioner in a race that was notable for how much money was raised and spent by some of the candidates.

Candidates Bill Stubblefield and Larry Faircloth spent more than $45,000 between them in their effort to win the commission seat being vacated by Strauss, far outstripping their other three Republican opponents, who spent about $6,400 combined. The latter number is about equal to the amount spent during the last primary in 2004 by county Commissioner Ron Collins and his opponent, Curtis Keller, according to financial records in the county clerk's office.

Elections officials said they hoped to correct wrong perceptions about the county's new array of voting equipment in preparation for November's general election, adding vote results are saved and recorded in several forms, ensuring the veracity of the results.

Devlin likened the printed tally to a receipt issued by a store following a purchase.

"Except here, you don't take the receipt with you," she said.

Devlin said the county hopes to have new printers on hand before November's election.

Jefferson County's primary night was slowed because many voters did not properly fill in the ovals on their ballots. The county did not get a complete count of its 30 precincts until about 2 a.m. Wednesday. Morgan County's night went fairly smoothly, and all 13 of its precincts were counted by about 10:30 p.m.

Despite the results, Secretary of State Betty Ireland remained an unhappy customer the day after the election, filing a formal complaint against voting machine vendor Election Systems & Software with the federal Election Assistance Commission. Ireland said the company's delays in programming ballots for the new electronic voting machines caused problems for state and county election officials.

"I am more than upset that our county clerks and their staffs and the county commissions had to withstand stress and anxiety over the broken promises and delays ES&S put them through," Ireland said in a news release issued Wednesday. "The county election officials are to be commended for their valor and hard work above and beyond the call of duty."

Ireland said she will conduct a survey of election night problems, and has been in contact with the Attorney General's office to weigh her office's legal options.

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