County ready for recount


Herald Writer

EVERETT — The hubbub over vote totals in Florida may have caused some in Snohomish County to wonder if their votes really were counted in the general election early this month.

What’s more, some might wonder how their votes will be treated in the recount starting here this morning in two statewide races.

Those are legitimate questions, said Scott Konopasek, election manager in the auditor’s office.

But that’s why a strict set of procedures is employed before each election — in this case a recount of the tight secretary of state and U.S. Senate races.

Eight hundred test ballots were run through the county’s eight optical scanner vote-counting machines Wednesday in preparation for the recount. Election officials knew exactly how things should have turned out. And that’s the way it ended.

What took place is what Auditor Bob Terwilliger called a logic and accuracy test, which is required by state law before each election. The object is to make certain things are on the up and up.

Observers from both major political parties were on hand Wednesday to make sure things went smoothly and the counting machines were accurate.

"If people are going to be comfortable with elections, then there have to be people there to observe," said Frauna Hoglund, who was representing the Republican Party. "This ballot is not subject to as much error as the punch ballots."

She referred to the punch card system used in at least some Florida counties, where observers spent days trying to figure out voters’ intent by closely examining ballots in hand recounts.

The optical scanners, she added, should give voters confidence.

The test Wednesday took only about 45 minutes.

"It simply verifies that the ballot counting program is accurately reading the responses for the two races we’re counting in all areas of the county," Terwilliger said.

Earlier this week, the eight optical scanning machines were reprogrammed. Konopasek had a pile of test ballots set up to give a predetermined result.

That included replicating common voting errors, such as people not voting for anybody, or voting for more than one candidate in a single race. Those ballots the machines automatically kick out and don’t count.

If the results hadn’t matched the known outcome, Konopasek would have had to do more reprogramming.

Before the general election, there was a more elaborate dry run consisting of more than 6,000 test ballots that included every possible ballot combination of local and state races.

"We test not only the program but the machinery," Konopasek said.

In fact, he found one of the machines needed some cleaning before today’s recount.

Work on the recount has been progressing all week, with election workers hand-counting the ballots and sorting them by precinct. Most of the counting, which starts at 7 a.m., will be complete late tonight.

The remainder will be counted Friday morning, and Terwilliger said his office is scheduled to certify the recount Friday afternoon. The local votes will be added to others from around the state by the Secretary of State’s Office.

The punch-card system was abandoned in Snohomish County in September 1995 when the optical scanners were acquired. Terwilliger said he’s not surprised that the punch-card ballots in Florida have raised controversy. The Florida experience introduced much of the nation to the term "chad," tiny waste paper that’s supposed to be punched out.

"There are so many reasons why those things don’t punch out," Terwilliger said.

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