Lost e-votes in N.C. county prompt new local election

An e-voting machine lost about 4,400 votes on Election Day

A North Carolina county where an e-voting machine lost about 4,400 votes on Election Day last month will allow voters to again cast their ballots in January in the race for state agriculture commissioner.

The state Board of Elections voted Tuesday to allow 24,000 voters in Carteret County -- including those whose votes were lost and those who didn't vote -- to cast ballots on Jan. 11. The race for agriculture commissioner is the only state or local election that was close enough for the missing 4,400 votes to matter, said Robert Cordle, one of five members of the state board of elections.

In the agriculture commissioner's race, the challenger has a 2,300-vote lead over the incumbent.

Local election officials said they were told by the manufacturer of the touch-screen system, UniLect Corp. in Dublin, Calif., that the machine could tally up to 10,000 votes. Actually, it can store only 3,000 votes, Cordle said.

Poll workers didn't notice when the equipment began displaying a message that it couldn't accept any more votes, Cordle said, and the machines don't create paper copies of the ballots. "As a compromise ... we agreed to allow those whose vote was not counted last time to vote and anybody who didn't vote last time [to cast ballots]. It's a very unusual ruling, and each [candidate] has 10 days to appeal it in court. It may get changed if they do."

The January election will cost $20,000, Cordle said, adding that the county will rely on the same machines it used in November but will allow only 3,000 votes per machine.

The state has set up a legislative commission to study the issue of e-voting, and election board officials are looking into using equipment that offers a paper audit trail, Cordle said.

Will Doherty, executive director of voter advocacy group the Verified Voting Foundation, said the Carteret County e-voting problem was the most serious one nationwide because of the clear evidence of lost votes.

"At a bare minimum, you have to give people whose votes were lost a chance to vote," Doherty said. "That is the tip of the iceberg. If Carteret County is going to continue to use electronic voting machines, they should immediately provide a voter-verified paper ballot on the voting machines they use."

Doherty's organization teamed with the Electronic Frontier Foundation to send letters to election officials in eight counties nationwide where voters reported incidents problematic enough to warrant "further investigation, if not full audits, recounts or redos of the election," Doherty said. He hasn't received responses from officials of those counties, which include Broward and Palm Beach counties in Florida, Mahoning and Franklin counties in Ohio, Mercer and Philadelphia counties in Pennsylvania, Harris County in Texas, and Bernalillo County in New Mexico.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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