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Voting machines removed in Grafton

 

3/16/06

By CAROL ROBIDOUX

Union Leader Staff

 

Grafton No matter how you do the math, 193 "yeas" plus 198 "nays" don't add up to 369 votes.

 

That faulty equation results of a warrant article vote from Tuesday's election ballot was the first clue for Grafton town officials that something was wrong.

 

As a result, two voting machines used to collect ballots in the annual town and school district meetings are now in the custody of the Attorney General's Office, removed from the town yesterday, said Grafton Selectman Jennie Joyce.

 

She suspects the problem falls somewhere between human error and machine malfunction. Once the polls closed and the vote tallies were logged, nobody actually bothered to do the math before calling it a night.

 

"At that point nobody does the math you're so tired, you're just trying to put the place back together and get out of there," Joyce said of the post-election process at the fire house. "It occurred to me after I got home that it didn't add up, after I had time to think about some of the numbers."

 

Joyce woke Town Clerk Mary McDow with a phone call at 6:45 a.m. McDow decided the best thing to do was nothing, until the Attorney General's Office was contacted.

 

She said the voting machine showed no signs of malfunctions during two pre-election tests most recently one week prior to the election.

 

Deputy Attorney General Orville "Bud" Fitch confirmed the seizure of the machines, but was reluctant last night to characterize the nature of the problem.

 

"We are trying to understand what problem exists," Fitch said.

 

The voting machines, one used to count town ballots, the other for school district ballots, were removed from the town for safekeeping yesterday "so everything is in one place," while the Attorney General's Office looks into the issue, Fitch said.

 

Fitch would say little else about the nature of the complaint and what had occurred after the voting machines were retrieved.

 

"We will examine whether there is an issue," he said. "We are trying to better understand the nature of the concerns."

 

McDow, who is trained to operate the voting machine, said she learned more after placing a call yesterday to LHS Associates of Methuen, Mass., the company that services the town's Accu-Vote machine.

 

"They told me one of the dip switches let go, or the problem had to do with one of the dip switches not being set that's what LHS told me after I read them the information from the tally sheet," McDow said.

 

The toggle switch glitch likely caused some ballots to be counted twice, McDow said.

 

"It's really crazy. Now we will just have to wait and find out for sure," she said.

 

The margin of error could end up changing the outcome of two important warrant articles, McDow said one for a new police cruiser and the other for a compactor for the town's recycling center.

 

Secretary of State Bill Gardner last night would only confirm that the machines had been seized, something he characterized as a "pretty unusual" occurrence.

 

"Not that it's never happened it happens once in a while. Sometimes it explains itself," Gardner said.

 

"We'll take a look at it. Sometimes what were perceived as discrepancies can be explained, and sometimes it can't. Then you try to reconstruct what happened," Gardner said.

 

It's too soon to talk about a recount, Gardner said.

 

However, Joyce said she is in favor of recounting ballots, both by hand and by machine.

 

"It's not be such a bad idea, just to test the accuracy of the machine," Joyce said.

 

Board of Selectmen chairman Steve Darrow last night said the turn of events is not so much controversial as it is exciting.

 

"I don't think it's a big scandal or anything. Either it was machine error or operator error we really don't know," Darrow said. "It makes the whole thing more interesting. For such a small town, there's never a dull moment in Grafton."

 

An assertion easily confirmed at Grafton Country Store on Route 4 yesterday, where a steady flow of townspeople gathered throughout the day to speculate about what was behind the election machine seizure, said clerk Meagan Small.

 

"There were people with all kinds of opinions. A lot of people in town don't believe in the machines. They think that they don't count right. Others feel it was probably somebody's fault," Small said. "No matter what, it was definitely the subject of the day."

 

Union Leader correspondent Lorna Colquhoun contributed to this report.

 

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