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The Patriot-News

 

Voters complain of machine glitches

Up to 12 counties affected; GOP seeks probe

 

Sunday, December 24, 2006

BY TOM BOWMAN, GARRY LENTON AND AL WINN

Of The Patriot-News

 

The Republican State Committee is asking the state to investigate reports of voting machine malfunctions yesterday.

 

As many as 12 counties -- Cumberland, Lebanon and Lancaster among them -- reported problems, according to a letter GOP counsel Lawrence Tabas wrote to Pennsylvania Secretary of State Pedro Cortes. Some people reported that machines were changing Republican votes to Democratic, Tabas said.

 

However, state election officials said late yesterday they had received no reports from counties of any such malfunctions.

 

"The bottom line is that we have no evidence at this point in time that ... somebody who wanted to cast a vote for a given candidate ultimately left a polling place voting for somebody else," said Cortes.

 

State Democratic Party spokesman Abe Amoros said he equated the GOP claims to "anticipated sour grapes." Larry Smar, a spokesman for Sen.-elect Bob Casey Jr., said the GOP "seems like [it's] trying to set up a voter fraud case."

 

State Attorney General Tom Corbett said last night that if voter fraud allegations come forward, they could be investigated by county district attorneys or his office.

 

Nationwide, the MoveOn.org Political Action organization is offering a $250,000 reward for evidence leading to a felony voter-fraud conviction.

 

CUMBERLAND COUNTY:

 

Jerry Wilkes, county information management and technology director, said last night that investigations were carried out on seven complaints that touching one candidate's name on an electronic ballot produced another name. He said he believed slips of the finger were to blame.

 

"No one could reproduce the problems. I'm satisfied with the way the machines operated," he said. "Election judges said that, upon reflection, it was human error."

 

LEBANON COUNTY:

 

Human error was blamed for a delay in balloting in all Lebanon County districts. Officials could not get the machines to start yesterday morning.

 

Lebanon's problems were traced to improperly formatted computer disks that county election staff prepared for each of the machines.

 

"It was our fault," Lebanon County Commissioner William Carpenter said.

 

Because of the delay, the county election board voted to keep the polls in Lebanon County open until 9 last night. The Pennsylvania Department of State, which oversees elections, ordered the county to use paper ballots to record votes cast from 8 to 9 p.m.

 

DAUPHIN COUNTY:

 

Calls to WHP-AM alleged voting machines were incorrectly recording ballots cast in Harrisburg.

 

The complaints, which were unfounded, alleged that voting machines in the city were recording straight-party ballots for the opposite party.

 

The calls might have been part of a campaign to discredit electronic voting, said Steve Chiavetta, Dauphin County's chief clerk of elections.

 

If so, they had little or no impact on voters, he said. Voter turnout across the region was heavy.

 

Karen Balaban, a lawyer for the state Democratic Party, theorized the calls might have been an attempt to discourage Harrisburg's mostly Democratic and minority voters from going to the polls.

 

"I think it's sad," she said.

 

Dauphin County Commissioner Nick DiFrancesco, who oversees the county elections bureau, called the reports bogus.

 

"It's one thing to question the use of electronic voting systems, but it's another thing to make allegations that cause people to question the validity of the election," he said.

 

Cathy Ennis, a spokeswoman for the Department of State, said the calls, while unethical, probably do not constitute a violation of the state's election law.

 

LANCASTER COUNTY:

 

As in Lebanon County, Lancaster County extended voting until 9 last night.

 

More than 40 vote-scanning machines throughout the county malfunctioned, chief clerk Andrea McCue said.

 

CALLERS COMPLAIN:

 

Cecilia Martinez, executive director of the Reform Institute, a sponsor of a voter-problem hot line (866-698-6831), said operators had received nearly 2,000 calls from Pennsylvania by midafternoon; nearly one-third of the calls came from Lancaster County.

Callers complained that people had to use provisional ballots and that polling places had "super-long lines with confusion," she said.

 

Staff writers Andrea Ciccocioppo, Elizabeth Gibson, Charles Thompson and Chris A. Courogen and The Associated Press contributed to this story. TOM BOWMAN: 255-8271 or tbowman@patriot-news.com GARRY LENTON: 255-8264 or glenton@patriot-news.com AL WINN: 832-2090 or awinn@patriot-news.com

 

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