MERCER ELECTION COMMITTEE Meeting set with vote machine company

The committee met Tuesday with legal counsel to discuss possible litigation.
MERCER, Pa. -- The Independent Election Committee of Mercer County has decided to delay issuing its final report for a week to allow it to meet with the president of Unilect.
Members agreed Tuesday that they cannot make a recommendation on future use of the computerized voting machines until they discuss the problems that occurred in the Nov. 2 general election with Jack Gerbel, president of the California company that sold the county the voting machines.
Dr. Michael Coulter, committee chairman, said he is trying to arrange a meeting with Gerbel and expects a call soon.
The committee set the tentative release of its draft with recommendations for 3:30 p.m. Feb. 7 in the Rotunda of the Mercer County Courthouse.
On Tuesday, committee members held a half-hour private session with county Solicitor Mark Longietti to discuss the county's 2001 purchase agreement with Unilect. The private session was to discuss potential strategy for litigation against Unilect. Members have previously discussed options such as forcing Unilect to revamp the machines to avoid future problems. At first it was believed that the only problem was a coding error which rendered machines inoperable in 12 precincts Election Day.
However, the committee has since discovered that even precincts that experienced no difficulties had a high-enough undervote to indicate problems with their machines. Undervotes are ballots for which no votes were recorded for president. Percentages in Mercer County were significantly higher than average.
Longietti also said that according to the contract, there is supposed to be an "anonymous voter log," which could be accessed at the end of the election to provide a backup tally, though this had never been mentioned by any of those questioned by the committee. The lack of a backup method has been a concern of the committee.
Draft of final report
Committee members also reviewed and discussed a draft of their final report Tuesday. The draft, called "Restoring Confidence to Voters," contains recommendations that have been discussed in the committee's nine meetings. They include testing of machines, development of operational election plans, better training for election workers, a full-time election director and more public demonstrations of the voting machines.
The draft identifies many problems, ranging from inadequate testing of machines, improper handling of paper ballots, poor communications among all involved, and difficulty voters had in using the voting machines. Detailed recommendations to overcome the problems are also included.
One new recommendation is that Unilect install into software of county voting machines "pop-up" screens that would warn voters when they appear to be deleting their votes or having problems or if a voter fails to vote in a particular race.
Coulter commented Tuesday that committee member Kathleen Paul, who was unable to attend the meeting, had reviewed the draft and did not think it was strong enough. She felt it merely advises those responsible to follow the law.

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