By John McCormick and Gary Washburn
Tribune staff reporters
Published March 28, 2006
Suburban Cook County election officials said Monday that they had finished counting polling place ballots, nearly a week after the primary election was thrown into confusion by new and problem-plagued voting equipment that many election judges were not trained to operate.
In Chicago, roughly 25 precincts remain to be counted, a job likely to be done Tuesday.
Both jurisdictions still must count absentee ballots that arrived after the primary election but were postmarked before. And they need to review ballots cast on a provisional basis by those incorrectly not listed as registered voters in polling-place books because of clerical errors or delays.
It is still possible that the outcome of a few close contests, such as those involving judges and referendums, could still be determined based on how the remaining ballots sift out.
Although the majority of ballots cast before the election during a first-ever early voting period have been tabulated in Chicago, an unknown number from suburban Cook County remain uncounted. More than 14,000 of the ballots were cast in suburban Cook during an 18-day period before the election.
"We believe the vast majority of the early vote ballots were processed and counted," said Scott Burnham, spokesman for Cook County Clerk David Orr.
Burnham said some sealed early voting ballots have been found in boxes containing polling-place materials because election judges apparently did not know what to do with them. Local election officials are trying to persuade state lawmakers to allow central counting of those ballots to help reduce polling-place work.
Tom Leach, spokesman for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, said most of the counting that remains is a matter of comparing back-up paper records of votes against computerized results.
Meanwhile, Ald. Edward Burke (14th) announced plans to consider legislation calling for City Council hearings on voting system problems, as well as a measure that would block further payments to California-based Sequoia Voting Systems pending a review of the glitches.
"There are still elections that haven't been called," Burke said. "It is an embarrassment. It is a disgrace. And until such time as we find out what caused all this, I don't think this firm should be paid."
Election officials have previously said they are considering just such a move.
But Langdon Neal, chairman of the Board of Election Commissioners, said the council has no control over the money used to buy the equipment because it came from the federal government by way of the state. Combined, the city and county owe about $30 million on contracts worth roughly $52 million.
Burke also raised questions about the propriety of purchasing election equipment from a company owned by a Venezuelan firm, drawing a parallel with the failed proposal to allow a state-owned company from the United Arab Emirates to assume control of ports in six U.S. cities.
Neal said the election board investigated the foreign ownership of Sequoia and found no improprieties.
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune