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State finds no flaws with voting machines

Officials' findings refute charges of irregularities


Published:November 20, 2010, 05:24 AM

Updated: November 20, 2010, 01:44 PM

State elections officials reviewed Erie County's use of new voting machines this week and found no evidence of voting irregularities in the 60th State Senate race.

Technicians from the state Board of Elections spent a day observing Erie County's verification of its election results and, contrary to recent allegations, came away convinced there were no serious problems with its use of new voting machines.

"There was no malfunction with the machines in Erie County," said John Conklin, spokesman for the State Board of Elections, "and the machines in no way affected the results of the election."

The state's findings run contrary to recent allegations that State Sen. Antoine M. Thompson of Buffalo is trailing challenger Mark J. Grisanti because of widespread voting irregularities.

At last count, Grisanti, a Democrat who ran as a Republican, was leading Thompson, a two-term Democrat, by at least 676 votes. Senate Republicans claim Grisanti's lead is 951 votes.

"One thing has become definitely clear," State Senator-elect Michael Gianaris, a member of Thompson's legal team, said Friday. "In Buffalo, we have a problem."

Gianaris' laundry list of mistakes range from two newly discovered voting machines to machines with memory sticks that are not readable to machines with paper records that do not match comparable computer records.

"There's a serious cloud over this whole count," said Gianaris.

Conklin disputed that assessment and so did local elections officials, who pointed to the state's appraisal of their election performance.

"They were satisfied," said Ralph M. Mohr, the county's Republican elections commissioner. "Everything we did, including bringing in the state board, proves that what we're doing is proper and that we can account for every single vote cast."

The local board of elections' decision to call in the state was fueled by allegations of widespread voting irregularities and a desire to prove that their verification effort in the 60th district was both accurate and transparent.

"Better too many than too few," said Dennis Ward, the county's Democratic Elections Commissioner, of the need for more independent observers. "Everyone has a stake in ensuring there's public confidence in the system."

Ward said the state board was eager to participate because the allegations of voting irregularities stemmed from the use of the new electronic voting machines now being used across the state.

Ward and Mohr confirmed that two voting machines not previously included in the final count were discovered Thursday. When they were, Grisanti gained an additional 136 votes over Thompson.

Mohr said the two machines were dispatched on Election Day to polling places in Buffalo when two other machines broke down. He said the practice of replacing a broken machine with a new one is state approved.

"It's the same practice we used with the old lever machines," he said.

He also dismissed as false the suggestion that memory sticks from the new machines were unreadable, or that paper records from the machines do not match computer-generated records.

The problem, elections officials say, is not the memory sticks, which contain the machine results, but rather the software that reads the sticks. And that problem was later solved to the satisfaction of state elections officials.

Angry over the delays in deciding the 60th Senate race, Senate Republicans continued to insist that Grisanti is the undeclared winner.

"This is just another delaying tactic," said State Sen. George Maziarz, a Newfane Republican and Grisanti adviser. "The voters have spoken and Mark Grisanti is clearly the winner."