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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Hand count audits vote scans in Wallingford

As published in the Record Journal Monday December 3, 2012

By Kimberly Primicerio
Record-Journal staff 
(203) 317-2279


Ten residents spent Sunday afternoon counting election ballots as part of an annual audit to check whether optical scan machines recorded the vote correctly.

Each year, the secretary of the state’s office randomly chooses 10 percent of the 747 polling precincts in the state that use optical scan voting machines for an audit. District 8 in Wallingford, the Wallingford Senior Center, was one of those selected.

“This isn’t a recount,” said Chet Miller, Republican registrar of voters. “We’re not trying to determine voter intention. We’re trying to determine whether the machine counted the ballot or not.”

Miller said the optical scan voting machines used throughout Connecticut on Nov. 6 have sensor lights. If someone didn’t fill in the circle on the ballot enough, the machine might not have counted the vote. The audit makes sure the machines are accurate and record information properly, Miller said.

On Sunday, eight paid helpers, Miller and Democratic Registrar of Voters Samuel Carmody gathered in a meeting room on the third floor in Town Hall. The volunteers, four Democrats and four Republicans who were paid $10 per hour, paired up. Miller handed each group hundreds of ballots cast at the Wallingford Senior Center on Nov. 6.

“We had a remarkably smooth presidential election on November 6th, especially given our state of recovery from Hurricane Sandy,” Denise Merrill, secretary of the state and Connecticut’s chief elections official, said in a written statement. “Now, it is our duty to audit the machine totals from the election to ensure the accuracy of our optical scanners.”

Pairs were first tasked with counting the ballots. As they did this, the room was quiet. Partners concentrated on counting and then recounted their partner’s stack of ballots.

Carmody said for the past several years a Wallingford voting district has been audited. He said no remarkable difference between hand counting and the optical scan machines has been discovered.

After each group counted ballots, they went through each ballot to see if any of its markings looked questionable. If voters checked a bubble on the ballot for their candidate instead of coloring in the bubble, it is likely the ballot was never counted. Counters looked through hundreds of ballots and picked out the questionable ones.

“Auditing election results isn’t just a good idea, it’s absolutely essential in order to guarantee the integrity of our elections,” Merrill said.

No one in the group was bothered by spending their afternoon counting ballots.

“I’ve been working at the polls since my boys were in elementary school,” said Betty Torre. Her sons are now in their 40s.

She even recruited her neighbors Genevieve and Thomas Gersz to help.

Torre and her counting partner Noma Beaumont, were sorting through the ballots and double-checking each other. Nearby, Noma Beaumont’s daughter, Cate Beaumont, was paired with Genevieve Gersz.

“I’ve been around elections since I was born,” Cate Beaumont said. Her mother brought her to a polling place when she was one month old, she explained.

After questionable ballots were located and set aside, partners then sorted ballots by the presidential choice. Those numbers were compared with official machine-recorded numbers. The same was done for congressional candidates and registrars of voters candidates.

Once all the counting was complete, some conclusions were reached.

“There were a few ballots where the ovals were not filled out completely, and therefore, a couple of votes were not cast as the voter had intended,” Carmody said. “The voting machines are smart, but they are not smart enough to decide voter intent if the ballot was improperly filled out.”

While the voting machines did their job, voters need to be reminded to fill in the ovals on their ballots completed in order for their votes to be accurately counted, Carmody said.

Carmody said Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney would have picked up one additional vote. Congressional candidate Wayne Wins-ley, a Republican, would have picked up one additional vote in the 3rd District race. Miller would have gained one vote for registrar of voters race and Carmody would have tallied four more votes.

“There is no impact on the outcome of any of the races,” Carmody said.

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