Report Blames Speed In Primary Vote Error

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 2, 2008

Speed might have contributed to the Sept. 9 primary debacle involving thousands of phantom votes, according to a D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics report issued yesterday.

The long-awaited document concludes that employees in charge of tabulation that night were moving too fast, but the report does not offer a definitive explanation about the initial incorrect results, which spurred confusion, three investigations and a delay in the vote's certification.

The infamous Precinct 141 cartridge "had inexplicably added randomly generated numbers to the totals that had been reported," according to the report written by the elections board's internal investigative team.

Continuing to trace the problem to the single Precinct 141 computer memory cartridge that was misread, the report notes that staff members acted hurriedly on two fronts: They read computer memory cartridges at a high rate and then released results before a thorough review.

"In the report, they cite speed as a factor . . . in the process, but I think we haven't pinpointed the exact cause of the defect in the processing of the cartridge," board Chairman Errol R. Arthur said.

As a precaution for the Nov. 4 general election, the board won't use the cartridge from Precinct 141 or the memory card reader used on that cartridge Sept. 9, Arthur said. The board also will slow down and review results for unusual happenings, such as the unusually large number of write-ins at the primary, according to recommendations in the report.

D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), chairman of a special council committee investigating the blunder, said the report "offered nothing insightful or new or particularly helpful in what happened."

The committee will hold its first hearing tomorrow and is expecting board members, staff and representatives of California-based vendor Sequoia Voting Systems to testify.

Cheh has enlisted the help of Jenner and Block, a national law firm that is offering its services pro bono. She said lawyers, headed by partner Lorelie S. Masters, will serve as legal advisers as she wades through how voting machines and elections work. Part of Cheh's expedition will be to closely monitor polls and the count Nov. 4.

Meanwhile, lawyer Cary Silverman, who lost his bid for the Ward 2 council seat in the Democratic primary, said he will file a request today for a recount of the Ward 2 election. Although he does not expect the recount to overturn his loss to incumbent Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Silverman said in a statement that he wants it "to help restore voter confidence, determine the source of the apparent error, and ensure that [the board of elections] is prepared for the November general election and future elections."

Since the primary, the error has been traced to the Precinct 141 cartridge. After a misreading, 4,759 votes were reflected instead of the actual 326 cast there.

The tabulation team, consisting of three elections employees and two representatives from Sequoia, reprocessed the cartridge and compared a tape of results produced to a tape at the precinct and signed earlier by a precinct captain. They matched, so the elections board was confident results had been corrected, Arthur said.

But the three-member board and agency staff members had guarded that information since Sept. 9.

Arthur said the board thought it would be premature to give out information until the report was completed. He called Acting Executive Director Sylvia Goldsberry-Adams "courageous" for asking the board to delay certification of the election last week to conduct a hand count of ballots from Precinct 141.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company