The Polls Have Closed, but Voting Problems Linger

Published November 07, 2002

| FoxNews.com

Election Day 2002 was fraught with polling glitches, and the smoke has yet to clear in some states still struggling with the fallout.

In Alabama, Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman and his challenger, Republican Rep. Bob Riley, both claimed victory early Wednesday in the gubernatorial race after a dispute arose over the correct vote totals in a county considered a GOP stronghold.

By late Wednesday, officials in Baldwin County put their stamp of approval on vote totals, giving Riley a victory over Siegelman, but a dispute leaves the outcome in doubt. Election officials in the Republican-dominated county said today the correct number for Siegelman was 12,736, not the 19,070 initially reported by county officials on election night.

Alabama does not have a law providing for an automatic recount in tight races. Instead, a voter can seek a recount with each county canvassing board. That requires putting up a security bond, said Chuck Grainger, attorney for the secretary of state's office.

In Arizona's gubernatorial race, Democrat Janet Napolitano held a narrow lead over Republican Matt Salmon Wednesday, but counting the remaining ballots could take days.

With all precincts reporting results of ballots cast Tuesday, Napolitano, the state attorney general, had 472,197 votes, or 47 percent; Salmon, a former congressman, had 446,913, or 44 percent.

As many as 220,000 mail-in ballots remained to be counted, however. All ballots were to be in elections officials' hands by 7 p.m. Tuesday night or were disqualified for being late.

Mail-in ballots were cast days or weeks in advance and other ballots needing to be hand-checked remained to be tallied. Counties must count the ballots within five business days, or by next Tuesday.

In South Dakota, some polls were mistakenly open for 13 hours instead of 12 because of time zone discrepancies, prompting lawsuits.

State Sen. John Koskan, R-Wood, who votes in Mellette County, and Mike S. Assman, a Republican who has lived in Todd County for 43 years, filed twin legal requests early Tuesday night to have all ballots segregated that were marked in the extra hour at the polls.

The two were recruited as plaintiffs after the state Republican Party hired a lawyer to ask for court injunctions, which were immediately denied by Circuit Judge Kathleen Trandahl during a telephone hearing.

"There's really no authority for segregating ballots," the judge said Wednesday. "The ballot box is sacred, and you could figure out how people voted if you segregated some of the ballots."

The race for Colorado's 7th Congressional District hit a wall as county clerks struggle with several thousand provisional ballots. Elections officials say it could be Nov. 17 before they know the totals. It could take until late November if an automatic recount is triggered.

With 346 of 395 precincts reporting, Republican Bob Beauprez has a one-percent point lead over Democrat Mike Feeley, or 2,211 votes.

Beauprez has already claimed victory. He's planning to attend an orientation meeting for new members of Congress next week. Feeley spokesman Steve Welchert says Beauprez's claim of victory is premature.

The provisional ballots are the result of a new state law allowing people to cast ballots even if they aren't listed on a precinct's registration rolls. Officials have two weeks after the election to certify the validity of the provisional ballots.

In Florida, a state as notorious for voting problems as shark attacks, the voting process had some initial glitches but was a smooth ride compared to the 2000 elections.

"There were a few minor problems but nothing that would affect the outcome of the election, or that we would be litigating, at least that we've found so far," a spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party said Wednesday. "Yesterday, Florida got what it deserved, a relatively error-free election."

Advanced voting machine technology was introduced in some states, to mixed reviews.

Georgia has 22,000 touchscreens, the country's largest amount, and also may have the biggest problem on their hands.

In one county, ballots in at least three precincts listed the wrong county commission races. Officials shut down the polls at one point to fix the problem but didn't know how many wrong ballots were cast or how to correct errant votes. In another, a county commission race was omitted from a ballot.

There are now 510 counties nationwide with electronic voting systems, according to Election Data Services, a Washington, D.C., research company.

But the latest computerized voting machines, created to solve polling inaccuracies of the past, may have a dark secret that many aren't aware of, according to Bev Harris, a writer who specializes in voting machine integrity issues.

"The people who had the touchscreens have absolutely no idea that the machines counted their vote correctly no matter what the machine said on the screen. There is no paper trail and no way to audit the vote.

"In this particular election, in the areas with touchscreens, it looks like the margin of error is at a historical high. What the poll predicted would happen and what did happen had a bigger discrepancy than usual – and that is a red flag for vote rigging," she added.

Computerized voting systems could be easily corrupted, Harris said, and the "evidence itself can actually disappear."

"They need a paper trail and a random spot check of 10 percent just to make sure machines are consistently functioning correctly," she said. 

But Diebold Election Systems, which supplied machines for Georgia and Maryland, said election officials never asked for such features.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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