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Paper Ballots Blamed for Tally Delay

July 18, 2006

CLEVELAND (AP) _ Subtle variations on the paper ballots used in Cuyahoga County’s May primary election made them unreadable to optical scanners and caused lengthy delay in tallying the county’s votes, a review found.

It was the county’s first election using Diebold Inc.’s touch-screen and optical-scan voting systems.

SysTest Labs, a Denver-based company hired by the county to find the source of the problem, determined that the ballots were similar to the format recommended by the Ohio secretary of state’s staff.

However, black lines separating sections were thicker than on the Cuyahoga County ballots than on those used elsewhere in Ohio, where scanners could read the ballots without problem, and the ovals where voters mark their choices had slightly different locations.

SysTest also reported Monday that Diebold didn’t warn customers that using thicker black lines could create problems.

Officials had to order a hand count of more than 18,000 paper ballots from the primary because of inconsistent tabulations by the optical scan machines, used for absentee votes or in circumstances when touch-screen voting was not possible. The final count was delayed for days.

``We’ve been waiting for someone to tell us why the ballots are wrong,″ said Frank Piunno Jr., co-owner of MCR Inc., which printed the ballots approved by the county Board of Elections.

Mark Radke, spokesman for Diebold, based in North Canton, said it would be premature to comment until a final report is released.

States have been shifting to electronic voting since the 2002 Help America Vote Act reworked election standards and encouraged states to replace old punch-card systems. Manufacturers say the computerized versions are more reliable than punch card systems, which became infamous for their hanging chads during Florida’s 2000 president election recount.

Opponents of electronic voting allege that the machines are open to computer hackers and prone to errors that could assign votes to the wrong candidate. Lawsuits have been filed over their use in several states.

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