By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Lawyers working pro bono for the District will monitor the polls and will be at elections headquarters Nov. 4 after the debacle that caused thousands of phantom votes to be added to initial tallies of this month's primary.
Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), chairman of a special committee investigating the Sept. 9 blunder, said she wants "independent evaluators" present to observe any problems that might occur.
"I don't want to find out . . . that there's the same chaotic situation," Cheh said.
She held a news briefing yesterday to announce that the committee has brought on Jenner & Block, a national law firm that boasts its pro bono and public service work on its Web site, to help with the probe. Cheh later explained that the lawyers will roam the city on Election Day and make their way to election headquarters, along with D.C. Council staff members.
The committee will hold a hearing Friday. Witnesses will include members and staff employees of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics and representatives of Sequoia Voting Systems, the company that provides the city with its voting equipment and software.
On primary night, candidates and their supporters were confused by initial results, which were skewed in the number of write-in and over votes, as well as by the tallies of ballots cast for candidates.
The elections board initially said the errant numbers came from a defective computer memory cartridge from Precinct 141, but Sequoia has said the cartridge was not defective.
The three-member board released corrected numbers in the early morning hours the next day and said they were accurate. It began an internal investigation and certified the election Thursday after a hand recount of the ballots from Precinct 141. The number of ballots matched the number recorded on a tape for an optical scan machine.
The board has yet to explain the appearance of the thousands of phantom votes. Sequoia has offered some scenarios, including static discharge and human error.
Yesterday, Cheh released a Sept. 22 report that Sequoia gave to the elections board. The report outlines the potential reasons for the error and explains how the board came up with the correct results primary night.
The board and Sequoia representatives reprocessed the cartridge, and a results tape was compared with a tape that pool workers signed when polls closed. According to the report, they matched.
The report also questions the judgment of releasing numbers that looked so off the mark, saying that in future cases, a supervisor should be notified immediately.
"If the error is not noticed and the report is printed, a thorough review of the report is needed prior to distribution. By not doing this, a jurisdiction is effectively putting speed and the intense pressure of the media and candidates above accuracy and thoroughness."