E-voters get second chance after machine failed to count them

US voters in North Carolina will get a second chance to vote in state elections after their electronic votes were lost in the...

US voters in North Carolina will get a second chance to vote in state elections after their electronic votes were lost in the presidential elections which included many local ballots.

An e-voting machine lost about 4,400 votes on election day in November but voters will cast their ballots in the race for state agriculture commissioner again in January 2005.

The state Board of Elections has voted to allow 24,000 voters in Carteret County - including those whose votes were lost and those who did not vote - to cast ballots again on 11 January.

The race for agriculture commissioner's post  is the only state or local election in the area that was close enough for the missing 4,400 votes to matter, said Robert Cordle, one of five members of the state board of elections, where the challenger has a 2,300-vote lead over the incumbent.

Local election officials said they were told by the manufacturer of the touch-screen system, UniLect, that the machine could tally up to 10,000 votes, whereras in fact it can store only 3,000 votes, Cordle said.

Poll workers did not notice when the equipment began displaying a message that it could not accept any more votes, Cordle said, and the machines do not create paper copies of the ballots.

"As a compromise we agreed to allow those whose vote was not counted last time to vote and anybody who didn't vote last time [to cast ballots]. It is a very unusual ruling, and each [candidate] has 10 days to appeal it in court. It may get changed if they do."

The January election will cost $20,000 (£10,398), Cordle said, adding that the county will rely on the same machines it used in November but will allow only 3,000 votes per machine.

The state has set up a legislative commission to study e-voting, and election board officials are looking at using equipment that offers a paper audit trail, Cordle said.

Will Doherty, executive director of voter advocacy group the Verified Voting Foundation, said the Carteret County e-voting problem was the most serious one nationwide because of the clear evidence of lost votes.

"At a bare minimum, you have to give people whose votes were lost a chance to vote," Doherty said. "That is the tip of the iceberg. If Carteret County is going to continue to use electronic voting machines, they should immediately provide a voter-verified paper ballot on the voting machines they use."

Doherty's organisation teamed with the Electronic Frontier Foundation to send letters to election officials in eight counties nationwide where voters reported incidents problematic enough to warrant "further investigation, if not full audits, recounts or redos of the election", Doherty said.

Heather Havenstein writes for Computerworld

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