N.C. GOP leader: Touchscreen voting machines have flaw that aids Dems

Staff writerOctober 28, 2010 

— The chairman of the N.C. Republican Party alleged Thursday that a programming flaw with touchscreen voting machines used for early voting in 36 counties is causing votes intended for GOP candidates to be counted for Democrats.

Tom Fetzer, the Republican chairman, said that if the State Board of Elections does not enact a list of demands intended to remedy the problem by the end of today, the party's lawyers will be in federal court Friday morning seeking a statewide injunction.

Affected counties include some of the state's largest, such as Mecklenburg and Guilford.

"We cannot have an election where voters in counties where the machines are used have less confidence that their votes are being accurately counted than in counties where optical scan ballots are used," Fetzer said. "It's an incompetent situation at the State Board of Elections. We believe that they knew of problems with the calibration of these machines up to two months ago."

Johnnie McLean, deputy director of the state elections board, said Thursday that her office has received no widespread reports of problems.

"In every election we will have scattered reports of machines where the screens need to be recalibrated," McLean said. "That sort of comes with the territory with touch-screen technology."

Fetzer said the GOP is compiling written statements from voters who said they tried to vote a straight-ticket Republican ballot, only to see their votes tallied on a final review screen as being casts for Democrats. He said the problem appears to occur when the touch screen is unsure of the voter's selection, after which it is programmed to record the vote to the first candidate listed in the race. Democrats are listed before Republicans on the electronic ballots and therefore get the vote.

The machines in question are manufactured by ES&S and programmed and maintained under a statewide franchise by Printelect, a company based in New Bern.

Printelect was recently at the center of questions about high prices charged for paper ballots and sizable donations paid by the company's owner, Owen Andrews, to high-ranking Democrats that include Gov. Bev Perdue, who appoints the elections board. Andrews has also enjoyed a close relationship with top election officials, for which he provided catered parties and cruses on his 40-foot fishing boat.

Fetzer said the GOP has heard about the problem from voters in about a dozen counties, but that since all the machines were programmed by Printelect it is logical to assume the problem is more widespread.

McLean said there is no truth to the suggestion that the machines are programmed to favor Democratic candidates.

"That is wrong, just wrong," McLean said. "This is not any kind of unusual process with touch screens, but to say that the machines are programmed to default to Democrats is just wrong."

McLean pointed out that voters using touch-screen machines are prompted by the software to review their selections before finalizing and casting their ballot for tabulation.

"It is incumbent on all voters before they cast their ballot to confirm that they are marked correctly," McLean said.

michael.biesecker@newsobserver.com and 919-829-4698

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