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Losing candidates, GOP say tallies still aren't accurate
By Josh Noel
Tribune staff reporter
Published April 14, 2006
Claiming that scores of votes from last month's Cook County primary still haven't been accurately counted, a group of Republicans and losing candidates called for several unprecedented fixes Thursday, ranging from an audit of ballots to an entirely new election.
During a news conference in the lobby of Cook County Clerk David Orr's office, the group said it was motivated not by sour grapes, but by the bumbling of election officials.
"This is not Hurricane Katrina. This is not a disaster created by God," said Gary Skoien, chairman of the Cook County Republican Party. "This is a disaster created by our leaders."
At an impromptu news conference to respond, city and county election officials acknowledged many shortcomings on Election Day, but they said the votes, which were certified earlier this week, have been counted correctly. A standard recount of 5 percent of the ballots, done last week, was "right on the money," said Langdon Neal, chairman of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.
"Unequivocally, no--there will not be a new election," he said.
In addition to Skoien, a group including Democrats Frank Avila, who lost a race for the Water Reclamation board, and Darryl Smith, who fell short in the primary for the Illinois House's 6th District, echoed criticisms that have been voiced during the last month, including poor training of election judges and faulty voting equipment.
Avila, a lawyer, said he has lined up close to 30 plaintiffs, mostly Democratic primary losers, for a possible federal lawsuit to seek recounts in every race.
Fueled by concerns about "poor management and organizational incompetence," Maureen Murphy, vice chair of the county GOP and a member of the county Board of Review, said she has met with about 200 suburban election judges who detailed a litany of problems from the March 21 primary.
Among the issues, she said, were a touch-screen voting machine that "blew up like an M80" and had to be unplugged; machines showing votes that hadn't been cast; and machines not working at all. In one meeting she asked about 125 judges how many of them were confident that every vote at their polling place had been counted, and no hands went up, she said.
"We tell people every vote counts. But we do not believe every vote has been counted," she said. "This makes what happened in Florida, folks, look like a textbook election," she said, referring to the 2000 presidential election.
Election officials have agreed that faulty equipment led to Election Night mishaps, and they are pledging to withhold $15 million owed to the vendor, Sequoia Voting Systems, until two investigations are finished. One will be conducted by an outside computer analyst, Neal said.
This week, Orr's office released a 10-point plan to improve voting before November's general election. Among the proposals are providing additional training for election judges, designating an equipment manager at each polling place to oversee the machines (as other counties have done), and staging a mock election to test the equipment.
"Our performance wasn't up to par," Neal said. "But everything I've seen indicates the votes were counted accurately."
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