Thursday, November 18

The Dayton Daily News Article

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Two precincts had high undercounts, analysis shows

Two Montgomery County precincts had extraordinarily high numbers of ballots cast Nov. 2 with no presidential vote counted, and the county's overall rates of such undercounts were highest where Democratic hopeful John Kerry did best.

Undercounts are ballots that do not register a vote for a particular race, in this case for president. Two precincts - one in Kettering and another in Washington Twp. - had undercounts of more than 25 percent, according to a Dayton Daily News analysis of the county's unofficial results.

Overall in Montgomery County, 5,693 or 2 percent of the ballots cast registered no valid vote for president.

As predicted by political scientists, who say the poor and less-educated are more likely to have problems with punch card voting, the rate of so-called undercounted presidential ballots was higher in Democratic areas of the county than in Republican strongholds.

The undercount amounted to 2.8 percent of the ballots in the 231 precincts that supported Kerry, but only 1.6 percent of those cast in the 354 precincts that supported President Bush.

"That again, certainly, is torture," said Dennis Lieberman, the Montgomery County Democratic chairman.

Across the state on Nov. 2, counties that used punch-card voting, as Montgomery County did, had a higher rate of undercounted ballots than counties that used optical scanning technology or electronic voting machines, which had the lowest undercount.

With punch cards, undercounts can occur when a voter:

•Inadvertently votes for two candidates in the same race.

•Decides not to vote in the race.

•Does not sufficiently puncture the punch card to eliminate a "hanging chad." Hanging chads can make it impossible for machines to read the punch cards.

The highest undercount rate in Montgomery County was in precinct Washington X, around Paragon Road and Spring Valley Pike in Washington Twp.

In the precinct, 168 or 27.5 percent of the 611 ballots cast did not have a good presidential vote. That was followed closely by Kettering 3-A, near Stroop Road and Far Hills Avenue, where 121 or 27.3 percent of the 444 ballots cast were undercounted.

Both of those precincts supported Bush, as did seven of the 10 precincts with the highest rate of undercounted presidential ballots. That's despite the county's overall trend, in which precincts where Kerry did well tended to have above-average undercounts, while precincts where Bush won had lower-than-average undercounts.

County elections officials said they have no reports of any problems at either Washington X or Kettering 3-A. The punch-card voting stands, checked Wednesday using demonstration ballots, appeared to work appropriately.

Rates that high show something must have gone wrong, said Larry J. Sabato, a political scientist from the University of Virginia. Undercounts during presidential elections are typically between 1 percent and 2 percent, he said.

"It is very difficult to believe that a quarter of the people would not vote for president, especially in a year like this," Sabato said. "If I were the election officers in those areas I would be doing some very extensive checks of those machines."