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Friday, October 29, 2010

North Carolina Voter Fraud? Democrats Stealing Election?

N.C. GOP Says Voting Machines Are Faulty

The Chairman of the N.C. Republican Party alleged Thursday that a programming flaw with touch-screen voting machines is causing votes intended for GOP candidates to be counted for Democrats.

Tom Fetzer, the Republican chairman, said that if the N.C. State Board of Elections does not immediately remedy the problem, the party's lawyers will be in federal court today seeking a statewide injunction.

The machines are being used for early voting in more than 30 counties, including Mecklenburg, Union, Catawba and Burke, according to the State Board of Elections. More than 500,000 people have already voted early statewide.

"We cannot have an election where voters in counties where the machines are used have less confidence that their votes are being accurately counted than in counties where optical scan ballots are used," Fetzer said. "It's an incompetent situation at the State Board of Elections. We believe that they knew of problems with the calibration of these machines up to two months ago."

Johnnie McLean, deputy director of the board of elections, said Thursday that her office has received no widespread reports of problems.

"In every election we will have scattered reports of machines where the screens need to be recalibrated," McLean said. "That sort of comes with the territory with touch-screen technology."

Data gathering

The GOP is compiling written statements from voters who said they tried to vote a straight-ticket Republican ballot, only to see their votes cast for Democrats on a final review screen.

Fetzer said the problem appears to occur when the touch screen does not register the voter's selection, after which it is programmed to record the vote to the first candidate listed in the race. Democrats are listed before Republicans on the electronic ballots and therefore get the vote.

The machines in question are manufactured by ES&S and programmed and maintained under a statewide franchise by Printelect, a company based in New Bern.

Printelect was recently at the center of questions about high prices charged for paper ballots and sizable donations by the company's owner, Owen Andrews, to high-ranking Democrats that include Gov. Bev Perdue, who appoints the elections board. Andrews has also enjoyed a close relationship with top election officials, for whom he provided catered parties and cruises on his 40-foot fishing boat.

Fetzer said the GOP has heard about the machine problem from voters in about a dozen counties, but because all the machines were programmed by Printelect, it is logical to assume the problem is more widespread.

McLean said there is no truth to Fetzer's suggestion that the machines are programmed to favor Democratic candidates.

"That is wrong, just wrong," McLean said. "This is not any kind of unusual process with touch screens, but to say that the machines are programmed to default to Democrats is just wrong."

Kristin Mavromatis, a spokeswoman for the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections, said her office had received five complaints about touch-screen equipment as of Thursday. In Mecklenburg, 36,000 people have voted early. Three of the complaints were from Republican voters, and two were from Democratic voters, she said.

One Republican voter reported trying to vote for Jim Pendergraph for Mecklenburg County commissioner, but Democratic candidate Jennifer Roberts' name appeared. Another Republican voter reported attempting to vote straight-ticket Republican and instead, Democratic candidates were checked.

Mavromatis said she thought the third Republican voter had the same complaint about straight-ticket voting.

The two Democratic voters said when they tried to vote a straight-ticket for Democrats, Republican candidates appeared.

Mavromatis said the machines involved had been checked and recalibrated, with no problems found.

"We take all complaints seriously," Mavromatis said. "But I don't feel it's an issue. I stand by our coding. I stand by our equipment."

McLean pointed out that voters using touch-screen machines are prompted by the software to review their selections before casting their ballot for tabulation.

Check your ballot

"It is incumbent on all voters before they cast their ballot to confirm that they are marked correctly," McLean said.

Andrew Whalen, executive director of the N.C. Democratic Party, accused Fetzer of making "reckless and absurd" allegations.

"For him to make such baseless claims I can only assume he is trying to lay a groundwork of excuses for his party's upcoming electoral failures or attempting to suppress turnout by alleging fraud when there is no evidence of it," Whalen said, in a written statement.

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Sources: McClatchy Newspapers, WRAL, Google Maps

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