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The Charlotte Observer

N.C. to look at machines, other reasons for election problems

Associated Press
Sun, Nov. 14, 2004

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - A state study commission will convene as early as this week to decide how to overhaul North Carolina's hodgepodge of voting machines - including the one that lost about 4,500 votes in Carteret County.

Other problems included an election night miscount in Mecklenburg County and the delayed discovery of 13,200 ballots in Gaston County. National and state experts said those cases are not unusual and other states saw worse glitches.

Despite all 100 counties reporting unofficial results in North Carolina's Nov. 2 election, the outcome of two statewide races won't be known for days.

Protests and requests for recounts have been filed by candidates for agriculture commissioner and superintendent of public instruction, forcing election workers to again labor over the more than 3 million ballots cast. They have until Wednesday to complete the task.


Federal auditing officials will meet Monday to review a request from six congressional Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Mel Watt of Charlotte, for an investigation of voting problems in North Carolina and other states. Watt said he wants the Government Accountability Office to scrutinize the laws and processes nationwide.


National experts call Carteret County's lost votes one of the worst election flubs this year.

There, outdated software consigned 4,500 ballots to electronic oblivion with no backup, raising the prospect of a statewide re-vote for agriculture commissioner.

Carteret County officials had been assured the machine would take 10,000 ballots, but the software had not been updated. When the machine hit its limit, the screen said "voter log full," said UniLect president Jack Gerbel, whose California company made the machine.

But it didn't stop voters from thinking they'd voted, and poll workers say they never saw the signal.

"From now on," Gerbel said, "it will stop and not let any other votes be counted."

National experts reacted with the equivalent of "Well, duh!"

"You have to wonder what kind of bonehead would design a computer system that would hit capacity, then continue to take votes and just throw them away," Stanford University computer science professor David Dill said.

University of Iowa computer science professor Douglas Jones, a voting-machine expert, said the number of votes lost forever in Carteret County may be a new record.

The fiasco has renewed interest in machines that leave a paper trail. The mechanics of N.C. voting vary from county to county, ranging from punch cards to touch-screen machines.

The federal Help America Vote Act, ... provides $53 million to improve voting machines in North Carolina. Officials said it would cost $80 million to replace all machines statewide.

The federal law also requires the state to create a study commission ... The legislature complied - but realized after Election Day that they'd neglected to appoint legislators.


"What we're proposing to do is bring in experts on computers and voting machines and help us figure out the best solution to what is looming as a very large and serious problem," said state Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange.