Nader activists question accuracy of optical vote-scan machines
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire, home of the first state presidential primary, is about to become a test case for the accuracy of optical scan vote-counting machines — thanks to third-party presidential candidate Ralph Nader.
November 15, 2004
Nader has asked for a recount in 11 precincts that use Diebold Inc.'s Accuvote optical scanning machines. Based on the results, his campaign could ask for recounts in other states, spokesman Kevin Zeese said Monday.
Nader doesn't expect to change the outcome: In New Hampshire, Democrat John Kerry defeated President Bush, 50 percent to 49 percent, while Nader got less than 1 percent.
But the former consumer advocate wants to address concerns that the machines are inaccurate or can be tampered with, and New Hampshire is the perfect place to do that because state law requires paper ballots, Zeese said.
"New Hampshire is a smart enough state to have a paper trail," is experienced at recounts and the process is inexpensive, he said.
More than 2,000 people and organizations begged Nader to request a recount after a statistical analysis posted on the Internet showed some New Hampshire precincts using the Accuvote machines gave President Bush up to 15 percent more votes than expected, based on exit polls and the 2000 presidential vote.
The recount either will allay people's fears about voting fraud or help spur reforms, Zeese said.
Claims of vote fraud are "spreading like wildfire around the Internet, and if it keeps going people are going to be suspicious always, so why not check it out?" Zeese said.
State election officials are skeptical, saying that in past recounts they have not found significant miscounts by Accuvote machines.
"Typically, every candidate gains a few votes in the hand recount," said Assistant Attorney General Bud Fitch, who handles election disputes for the state.
That's because the machines don't count ballots that are marked inaccurately — for example, when somebody circles a candidate's name instead of filling in an oval with a black marker, he said.
Ida Briggs, a Michigan software developer and database manager who did the statistical analysis, said she found that precincts using the Accuvote machines deviated from the expected voting trend more often and by larger margins than those using a different optical scanning system or hand-counting.
The machines could be accurate, but the anomalies raised her "geek" antennae, she said.
"I don't want to be a conspiracy theory person," she said. "Some people don't believe in balancing their checkbook. ... To me, that's all this is: you just double-check."
And if there are serious deviations, then it's important to find out whether it's due to human error, hacking or manipulation, she said.
Based on Briggs' analysis, Nader requested hand recounts in Litchfield, Sandown, Newton, Danville, Salem, Pelham, one ward in Somersworth and four wards in Manchester.
Secretary of State Bill Gardner has not set a date for the recount. His office is conducting recounts of state Senate and House races through Nov. 23, so the recount is unlikely to begin until after Thanksgiving.
Diebold, of North Canton, Ohio, said its optical scanners have proved reliable over years of use.
"I think they're rushing to judgment," spokesman David Bear said of the recount advocates.
Diebold has suffered a storm of criticism over its newer touch-screen voting machines, however.
Last week, it settled a lawsuit by California over problems with the electronic machines, and voting rights advocates have complained the touch-screen systems lack paper back-ups.
Walden O'Dell, Diebold's chairman and chief executive, also raised thousands of dollars for the Bush campaign, and said in a fund-raising letter for the Ohio Republican Party that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes" to Bush.
He since has apologized, and Diebold's board voted in a new ethics policy that prohibits top management from donating to political candidates or causes.
On the Net:
Statistical analysis of New Hampshire vote: http://www.invisibleida.com
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