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Machine Error Gives Bush Thousands of Extra Ohio Votes
Published on Friday, November 5, 2004 by the Associated Press
Machine Error Gives Bush Thousands of Extra Ohio Votes
by John McCarthy
 
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- An error with an electronic voting system gave President Bush 3,893 extra votes in suburban Columbus, elections officials said. Franklin County's unofficial results had Bush receiving 4,258 votes to Democrat John Kerry's 260 votes in a precinct in Gahanna. Records show only 638 voters cast ballots in that precinct. Bush's total should have been recorded as 365.

Bush won the state by more than 136,000 votes, according to unofficial results, and Kerry conceded the election on Wednesday after saying that 155,000 provisional ballots yet to be counted in Ohio would not change the result.

Deducting the erroneous Bush votes from his total could not change the election's outcome, and there were no signs of other errors in Ohio's electronic machines, said Carlo LoParo, spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell.

Franklin is the only Ohio county to use Danaher Controls Inc.'s ELECTronic 1242, an older-style touchscreen voting system. Danaher did not immediately return a message for comment.

Sean Greene, research director with the nonpartisan Election Reform Information Project, said that while the glitch appeared minor "that could change if more of these stories start coming out."

In one North Carolina county, more than 4,500 votes were lost in this election because officials mistakenly believed a computer that stored ballots electronically could hold more data than it did.

And in San Francisco, a malfunction with custom voting software could delay efforts to declare the winners of four races for county supervisor.

In the Ohio precinct in question, the votes are recorded to eight memory locations, including a removable cartridge, according to Verified Voting Foundation, an e-voting watchdog group. After voting ends, the cartridge is either transported to a tabulation facility or its data sent via modem.

Kimball Brace, president of the consulting firm Election Data Services, said it's possible the fault lies with the software that tallies the votes from individual cartridges rather than the machines or the cartridges themselves.

Either way, he said, such tallying software ought to have a way to ensure that the totals don't exceed the number of voters.

County officials did not return calls seeking details.

Matthew Damschroder, director of the Franklin County Board of Elections, told The Columbus Dispatch that on one of the three machines at that precinct, a malfunction occurred when its cartridge was plugged into a reader and generated a faulty number. He could not explain how the malfunction occurred.

Damschroder said people who had seen poll results on the election board's Web site called to point out the discrepancy. The error would have been discovered when the official count for the election is performed later this month, he said.

he reader also recorded zero votes in a county commissioner race on the machine.

Other electronic machines used in Ohio do not use the type of computer cartridge involved in the error, state officials say.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, a glitch occurred with software designed for the city's new "ranked-choice voting," in which voters list their top three choices for municipal offices. If no candidate gets a majority of first-place votes outright, voters' second and third-place preferences are then distributed among candidates who weren't eliminated in the first round.

When the San Francisco Department of Elections tried a test run on Wednesday of the program that does the redistribution, some of the votes didn't get counted and skewed the results, director John Arntz said.

"All the information is there," Arntz said. "It's just not arriving the way it was supposed to."

Atechnician from the Omaha, Neb. company that designed the software, Election Systems & Software Inc., was working to diagnose and fix the problem.

© 2004 AP

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