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Machines, ballots blamed for slow vote in Jefferson County

November 09, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - In Berkeley County, which has twice as many precincts as Jefferson County, the vote counting in Tuesday's general election was completed by 11:10 p.m.

In Morgan County, where voting operations had to be moved because of a fire at the Morgan County Courthouse earlier this year, vote tabulating was completed by 10 p.m.

In Jefferson County, it was seven more hours before all the votes were counted.

In a process that is drawing criticism from local officials and residents, Jefferson County officials were not done with vote tallying until shortly after 5 a.m. Wednesday.

"That's just inexcusable. I'm sure there will be questions in people's minds about what the heck was going on," Jefferson County Commission member Rusty Morgan said.

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"We should have been able to count those votes in three to four hours," Morgan said.

Local and state officials said most of the delays were due to new voting equipment and poor assistance from ES&S, the provider of the voting equipment.

Morgan, who witnessed the vote tallying process, said it seems that a counting machine the county is using needs a lot of "babying and pampering" to get it to operate. Officials said there was an ES&S representative at the Jefferson County Courthouse to assist in running the equipment, but he did not seem to be knowledgeable about the machines. Morgan said the representative called people from his company about 20 times to get help.

Jefferson County Clerk Jennifer Maghan, whose office oversees county elections, said another reason the process was slow was because of problems transferring data from the counting machine into computer software.

And like the primary election in May, Maghan said there were also problems of voters not filling out paper ballots correctly. Voters using paper ballots are instructed to fill in ovals beside candidates' names, but some voters instead put a check mark beside the names or circled the names, Maghan said. When that happened, those ballots had to be recreated, Maghan said.

Secretary of State Betty Ireland said Wednesday that, in general, ES&S equipment seems to be working well across the state. The Secretary of State's Office selected ES&S to furnish voting equipment for all the counties, which ensures consistency in the state's voting process, Ireland said.

"The counting, we feel, is very accurate," Ireland said.

To improve efficiency in Jefferson County's system, county officials might want to consider going 100 percent to a touch-screen voting machine system rather than paper ballots and touch-screen machines, Ireland said. She added that feeding paper ballots through the county's counting machine can be difficult if the humidity level in the room is not right or the ballots are not entered into the machine properly.

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