TEXAS--Mistakes by Man and Machine Delay Tally by Almost a Day

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Thursday, March 16, 2000

Mistakes by man and machine delay Bee tally by almost a day

By Guy H. Lawrence Caller-Times

Election night vote tallying dragged on an extra day as mechanical and human errors kept Bee County officials from completing their count until 6 p.m. Wednesday. At 11:45 p.m. Tuesday, the ballot tabulator machine started miscounting the combined party ballots because of a discrepancy in ballot numbering, Bee County Clerk Julia Torres said. A glitch in running the combined final ballot totals by machine caused election workers to restart their count about midnight Tuesday. This was the first time the ballots of both parties were run together, in hopes of speeding up the process. The idea was proposed by one of the people hired by the parties to do the counting, Torres said. No one knows for sure why the miscounting occurred, Torres said. But the problem doesn't occur when each party's ballots are run separately, she said. The process dragged on for five more hours, and at 5 a.m. the final report was about to be printed, Torres said. It was then that her staff began to put equipment away, and someone accidentally unplugged the tabulator, Torres said. There were stunned expressions and disbelief, Torres said. The people hired by the parties to do the counting just walked out, Torres said. "They couldn't take it anymore," she said. "My people couldn't take the hours anymore, but they wanted to finish." But they couldn't finish without the staff hired by the parties to feed the ballots into the tabulator, Torres said. At that point, everyone decided to go home and return later that day to begin the count again, she said. Nueces County reported only a few glitches on primary night, but nothing that caused delays, county officials said. Nueces County Clerk Ernest Briones said that one ballot box didn't come in until Wednesday and two others were temporarily missing Tuesday night, but counters already had the results from each of the precincts, he said. The biggest problem during the primary was record rainfall that likely kept voters away, officials from both parties said Wednesday. Overall turnout for both parties fell below the 1996 presidential primary. Then 30,897 people cast votes in the Democratic primary and 12,419 people cast votes in the Republican primary, according to information provided by the Nueces County Clerk's office. This week, 20,726 people voted in the Democratic primary and 12,175 people voted in the Republican primary. "I have never been in an election where we had such a severe weather disruption," said Republican primary administrator Joel Yowell. Lauro Cuellar, the Democratic Party chairman, agreed there would have been more voters, but couldn't say how it would have affected races. In the Democratic primary, the early vote count was higher this year than in 1996 by about 1,000 ballots, but the election-day turnout of 12,424 was almost half of that of 1996. "I felt we were on the right track," Cuellar said. "If it had not rained, we would have a real good turnout." Both parties plan to canvass the results today. According to complete unofficial returns, four Nueces County races for party nominations will be decided in runoffs on April 11. Early voting will be from April 1-7, Briones said. http://www.caller.com/2000/march/16/today/local_ne/2673.html

-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), March 16, 2000

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