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New voting system linked to Altschuler-Bishop miscount

Kaitlyn Wallace, 13 months old, watches her father,

Kaitlyn Wallace, 13 months old, watches her father, Keith Wallace, of Lynbrook, vote at North Lynbrook Middle School, Tuesday. (Nov. 2, 2010) Credit: Craig Ruttle

The election night miscount of 1st Congressional District votes stemmed from mistakes in almost 40 percent of election districts, including one in Mount Sinai in which poll workers underreported 985 votes, according to a Newsday examination of unofficial election returns.

Overall, the initial phoned-in tally was wrong in 173 of 460 election districts, with 30 districts off by 10 or more votes for both Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) and Republican Randy Altschuler of St. James, the analysis shows. Four districts reported vote totals off by 100 or more votes for each.

Officials at the Suffolk Board of Elections, citing pending litigation, declined to comment about what Bishop spokesman Jon Schneider termed "a wild miscount." But others attributed the mistakes to a combination of human error and confusion about how to read tallies from the new computerized voting system.

Suffolk officials discovered the correct numbers during a check of the voting machines Friday. After the Board of Elections declared Bishop ahead by 3,461 votes on election night, the updated returns left Altschuler leading by 383 votes.

"The most likely reason is the poll workers were reading numbers off an unfamiliar tape," said Bo Lipari, founder of New Yorkers for Verified Voting, a nonprofit organization that lobbied for a transparent voting system. "Until now they were reading numbers off the back of a lever machine. Now the numbers are on a printed tape. The first thing to look for is whether there was simply poll-worker confusion."

As in many large New York counties, Suffolk elections workers phoned in results to the Board of Elections. Nassau officials drove the memory sticks from their voting machines to Mineola elections board headquarters, where they were counted by computer.

Lipari said there likely was administrative error by elections officials. "They failed to think about how the votes were going to be recorded and how it was called in," he said. "Something systemic has to be wrong here for there to be such a large number of errors."

At Brookhaven's 216th election district at Mount Sinai High School, poll workers shorted Altschuler 515 votes and Bishop 470 votes, the Newsday analysis shows. Officials said the discrepancy was likely because the poll workers could not read results from the voting machine's tape and called in zero votes for each.

In total, Altschuler gained or lost 10 votes or more in 51 election districts while Bishop gained or lost 10 votes or more in 58 election districts when voting machine totals were compared with the election night returns.

State Board of Elections spokesman John Conklin said Suffolk officials reported "a transcription error on election night that caused the discrepancy" between countywide election night and subsequent canvassing. State law does not govern the methods counties use to report returns, he said.

Altschuler spokesman Rob Ryan said concern about the county's new reporting system led the St. James businessman to not concede last week.

"We realized that having these new voting machines introduced throughout Suffolk County and the state would undoubtedly create errors in reporting and the tabulations on election night," Ryan said.

While Ryan said election night reporting issues do not mean the county should conduct a hand recount, Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer said the reporting errors add impetus to his call to manually count all of the nearly 200,000 ballots cast in the race.

"Why was it so widespread? Was there an issue with the documents that were used to report? Is there a question of the machines? You don't know," he said. "The quickest way to get the best answer to this is to hand-count all the ballots."

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