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PENNSYLVANIA Touch-screen vote system decertification is upheld



Published: Sat, April 30, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



County officials will seek reimbursement for the machines as well as money to buy a new system.

MERCER, Pa. -- Secretary of State Pedro Cortes notified Mercer County commissioners on Friday that he is upholding his decision to decertify the Unilect Patriot touch-screen voting system.

The surprise announcement came at the end of a board of elections meeting to set the rules for the May 17 primary election, which will be conducted with a rented optical scan system. The secretary said details of the decision will be announced next week.

The Unilect system was decertified after some 10,000 votes were lost in the three counties that used the system in the November general election. During a re-examination, the system failed many times to sense screen touches and register them as votes.

Unilect claimed it could remedy the problems and asked for another re-examination a week ago.

No immediate difference

Friday's announcement makes no immediate difference here because commissioners had already gone forward with plans to use the optical scan system in the primary. The state is paying the rental fee for the system because the county purchased the Unilect system based on the state's certification of it.

But the larger question, commissioners said Friday, is whether they will have to take a loss on the approximately $900,000 the county spent in 2001 to buy the Unilect voting machines. The county is due to receive reimbursement from the state for the cost of the Unilect machines plus additional money to buy some handicapped-accessible machines to meet the standards of the Help America Vote Act.

But commissioners said Friday that now that they have to buy a new voting system, they will fight to get not only reimbursement for the Unilect machines but also money to buy new machines. Commissioner Michele Brooks said new federal guidelines for voting machines must also be finalized before the county starts shopping for new machines.

Adopted policy

During the meeting Friday, commissioners also agreed to adopt Clarion County's policy for what type of markings will be accepted as a vote, should there be a recount or challenge. Under the system, voters will mark paper ballots and be instructed to fill in ovals opposite candidates' names without making stray marks. The paper ballots will then be counted with an optical scanner. The policy includes sample voting errors and describes what would and would not be accepted as a vote.

Also Friday, commissioners agreed to have both county solicitors present during the preliminary and final counts. They agreed to Elections Director Thomas Rookey's request that the commissioners' assembly room in the courthouse basement be closed to nonelection workers starting May 16 until the official count is completed because election materials will be stored there.

The elections office and the adjacent corridor will also be closed to any nonelection workers starting at 4 p.m. election day for security reasons.

One difference in this election is that all ballot counting election night will take place at the courthouse. No counting will be done at precincts. However, commissioners said Friday they will have to check with state officials to determine whether absentee ballots must be opened at precincts and write-ins recorded or whether it can all be done at the courthouse.




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