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Council Grills Elections Board

Joe McIntyre, Sr. Project Manager at Sequoia Voting Systems, demonstrates how touch screens and optical scanners work.
Joe McIntyre, Sr. Project Manager at Sequoia Voting Systems, demonstrates how touch screens and optical scanners work. (By Hamil R. Harris -- The Washington Post)
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Addressing the voting problems yesterday, Catania noted, "This goes to the very heart of our ability to govern ourselves. This is a dangerous slope that we are on."

This year, the elections board has had changes in its leadership, among its staff and on the three-member board.

Arthur, the chairman, noted that the agency resolved many of the issues it has dealt with in the past -- long lines and a lack of ballots -- during the Sept. 9 primary, the results of which were certified Sept. 25.

The special council committee, however, has been aggressive in digging into the recent primary by issuing subpoenas for voting equipment used that night and bringing on national law firm Jenner & Block to help with the probe.

Michelle M. Shafer, a vice president of Sequoia, told the council yesterday that although the equipment is not new, it was not the source of the problems on primary night. The elections board had initially said it was a defective vote cartridge that caused the phantom votes.

"The voting machines all worked well," Shafer said, as she has insisted all along. "In fact, the voting machine tapes were always consistent. In short, the results on election night were due to human error."

She and other Sequoia officials said more modern equipment is available that can help isolate voting problems if they are machine-related, and they criticized the city for not upgrading its equipment.

Dorothy Brizil, executive director of DC Watch, said she has always been leery of the "bridge software" city officials created to link the two types of voting machines. But Brizil said her main concern has been the board itself. "It doesn't help when the board members are not accessible," she said.

Douglas Jones, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Iowa and a voting expert who studied Florida after the 2000 presidential race, testified via teleconference. He had criticisms for both Sequoia and District officials.

Jones told the council that he has investigated Sequoia equipment and that some of their products have had problems. He added, however, that there are basic checks and balances that D.C. officials should have performed that they did not.

"What voters expect of elections are accuracy, confidence and finality, and we didn't get that at its highest value on Sept. 9," said Cary Silverman, a candidate for the Ward 2 council seat. "We still don't know if the results are accurate today."

Silverman said he wants to know how at 9:30 p.m. he had 3,097 votes and Jack Evans had 4,379 votes, and by 11:10 p.m. those numbers had changed to 1,582 for Silverman and 2,897 for Evans.

The board, which this week issued its own investigation into the problems on primary night, has said its workers might have been counting votes too fast.

Arthur said he takes "exception" with claims that the board is not responsive or accessible. "When they criticized us, we stood there and accepted it," he told the panel.

None of it satisfied council members.

"I feel that we have gone backwards in the last few years, and I am deeply disgusted," Mendelson said.

Staff writer Nikita Stewart contributed to this report.

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