Malwitz: No voting machine is going to be perfect -- and not just in Florida

           Published in the Home News Tribune 11/30/00

           The one consensus, perhaps the only consensus, out of Florida is that voting must enter the
           21st century. No more chads - dimpled, hanging or otherwise.

           Last week, I wrote how Middlesex County has a wonderfully modern system in which voters
           press a square next to a candidate's name on a computer screen. The square lights up, and votes
           are recorded on a cartridge. Every time the machine results have been used for recounts in
           Middlesex County, the recount has always duplicated the original.

           "We have never lost a vote," said Andrew Wynham, a spokesman for Sequoia Pacific
           Voting Machines, the manufacturer.

           But that all depends on what the definition of lost is, based on what happened in District 3 in
           the Kingston section of South Brunswick, where lights did not work properly. When election
           officials on the scene learned of the problem, they contacted Richard Plantec, the supervisor
           of the Middlesex County Election Board's voting-machine warehouse in Edison. He
           immediately sent a replacement.

           At the end of the day, cartridges from both machines were sent to the county clerk, and
           printouts were given to the major party challengers at the polling place, including Dr. Paul
           Murray, who noticed something odd.

           Voters could choose two freeholder candidates, and most voters chose running mates. In the
           countywide count, Democrats John Pulomena and Jim Polos got 140,223 and 134,798
           votes, respectively. Republicans Hank Grabarz and Carl Perlin got 81,675 and 78,846.

           But on the the machine that failed, Polos got 22 and running mate Pulomena got 0. Perlin got
           27 and Grabarz 0. The odds that all 65 voters voted for only Polos and Perlin, and not their
           running mates, are beyond astronomical.

           Told yesterday there was a problem with the machine, Plantec immediately checked the
           contested 12th Congressional District race. There Republican Dick Zimmer got 29 votes and
           Democrat Rush Holt got 28 votes. No problem.

           Then he saw the 0's in the freeholder race.

           "Obviously something's wrong," said Plantec, who cannot locate the problem while machines
           used in the Zimmer-Holt race are still impounded.

           It remains true, said Wynham, that Sequoia Pacific "has never lost a vote."

           "The problem (in the freeholder count) is votes were never cast. You can't lose a vote until
           you cast a vote," he said.

           They were never cast because there was a machine failure. Never cast. Lost. Same difference.

           Wynham allowed that failure happens.

           "If someone tells you a piece of equipment will never fail, don't believe them," said Wynham.

           He said that as soon as election monitors learn of a problem, they are instructed to shut
           down the machine and offer absentee ballots until a replacement arrives.

           According to Murray, there were no absentee ballots available. Voters were told to either
           wait for the replacement from the Edison warehouse or come back later.

           Instead of swearing at the system, as officials are doing in Florida, officials in Middlesex
           County swear by them.

           "We have a 21st century system," said Robert Reck, chairman of the county Board of
           Election commissioners.

           But a pair of zeros in Kingston proves no machine is infallible.

           Rick Malwitz's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. (732) 246-5500,
           Ext. 7327.