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20 percent of election printouts were unreadable

Officials fear disaster in Cuyahoga County during primary vote

 

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Joe Guillen

Plain Dealer Reporter

 

A recount after next year's presidential election could mean disaster for Cuyahoga County based on problems discovered Tuesday with paper records produced by electronic voting machines.

 

More than 20 percent of the printouts from touch-screen voting machines were unreadable and had to be reprinted. Board of Elections workers found the damaged ballots when they conducted a recount Tuesday of two races, which involved only 17 of the county's 1,436 precincts.

 

The recount lasted more than 12 hours. Reprinting the damaged records and hand-counting them created an extra step that added hours.

 

"If it is as close as it's been for the last two presidential elections and it's that close again in 2008, God help us if we have to depend on Cuya- hoga County as the deciding factor with regard to making the decision on who the next president of the United States is," said County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora, a longtime opponent of the county's touch-screen voting system.

 

Board of Elections Director Jane Platten said recounting the entire county for the 2008 presidential election could take more than a week.

 

"The high number of paper audit trails that need to be reprinted was at best a difficult task to have to work through," Platten said. "I think that's going to be an indication of future recounts."

 

Tuesday's recounts were for a North Royalton City Council seat and positions on the Bedford Heights Charter Review Commission. The recount upheld the official results that showed Dan Kasaris won the North Royalton race. Results were not available Tuesday night for the Bedford Heights election.

 

Cuyahoga County uses touch-screen voting machines that store votes on a memory card inside each machine. On Election Day, a paper record of each ballot is printed inside each machine on long reels of paper.

 

The printout is the paper trail used during recounts. If it's damaged and unreadable -- usually because the paper jammed when printing -- a new copy is printed from the machine's memory card.

 

"It's workable, but tedious," said board member Rob Frost after watching Tuesday's recounts. "I think that's, in part, the nature of recounts."

 

Election workers inspected 70 paper printouts, which represented nearly 4,400 ballots cast Nov. 6 in North Royalton and Bedford Heights. Election workers found 15 of the 70 printouts damaged and those had to be reprinted.

 

"This is very much a cause for concern," board member Inajo Davis Chappell said. "All the technology issues pose a challenge to us, especially given the volume of voters we expect in the primary."

 

Diebold Inc. made the county's voting equipment. The company renamed its elections division Premier Election Solutions. The high percentage of damaged paper trails seen on Tuesday is not typical, Premier spokesman Chris Riggall said. "That is a percentage that prompts us to do further investigation," he said.

 

The board has two more recounts scheduled to begin today: A race for Olmsted Falls City Council and a seat on the Solon Board of Education. The recounts on Tuesday and today were automatically triggered because the margin of victory was one-half of 1 percent or less.

 

The damaged paper records found Tuesday were another problem for the board following the Nov. 6 countywide election.

 

The county still doesn't know why its vote-counting software crashed twice election night. An investigation into the software problem could begin next week, once the county's recounts are finished.

 

Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner hopes to answer concerns about the county's voting system. She has initiated a statewide voting equipment review. A report expected Dec. 14 could recommend changes.

 

Meanwhile, elections officials must determine the best way to hold elections with their current machinery.

 

"I wish those paper trails would come out pristine -- and they don't, and they're not going to," Platten said. "We're going to have to deal with it again."

 

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:

jguillen@plaind.com, 216-999-4675

 

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