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Votes

New Voting Machines Get Their Day in Court

The polls were closed, the results counted, the victory speeches delivered, but it wasn't until Wednesday morning in a Fairfax County courtroom that the 2003 General Election reached some resolution.

Fairfax County's Republican committee filed an emergency motion 10 minutes before the polls closed Tuesday, charging that there may have been irregularities in how some votes were counted. On Wednesday morning, Circuit Court Judge Dennis Smith agreed to sign an order granting both parties access to internal logs from nine faulty voting machines.

At issue are nine voting machines which malfunctioned early in the day Tuesday. Election officials took the machines from their precincts to the Government Center to try to fix them, to no avail, then drove the machines back to the polling places at the end of the day. State law requires that votes be counted in the precinct in which they were cast.

Republicans claimed that by taking the machines to the Government Center election officials may have violated state law. Also, Craig said he was concerned that election officials may not have kept the machines constantly within their sight.

"We don't know what was done to these machines, whether the count was changed or not changed," said Christopher Craig, an attorney representing the GOP. "It's the ballot integrity and the concept of doing it right that we're standing up for."

County officials said election officials known as "rovers" stayed with the machines all day and made sure they were not tampered with. At the end of the day, the votes registered on the machines were tallied.

"Every vote that was cast was reported. Every vote was counted," said Fairfax County Attorney David Bobzien. The nine machines contained a total of around 200 votes, he added, and were unlikely to affect the outcome of any race.

Bobzien also said it was possible to access the machines' internal logs to determine exactly how many votes were cast and at what time they were cast. Both Bobzien and Craig said they would be amenable to having election officials review the internal logs in the presence of interested parties. Judge Smith asked them to write up an order before the end of the day Wednesday so that the review can happen as soon as possible before the final results are certified by the State Board of Elections.

County Election Manager Judy Flaig called removing the machines from their home precincts to try to fix them "a tactical error on the side of good intentions."

"The good news is not one of those votes was lost," she said.

Chairman-Elect Gerry Connolly (D), said he did not know why the Republicans were going to court over nine voting machines that "would only affect less than 1 percent of the total vote."

THE NEW MACHINES received mixed reviews on election day. Some voters mentioned privacy concerns after casting their ballots. In particular they said they missed the curtain that voters used to pull behind them before voting.

"Somehow I like being enclosed but I'll get used to that," said Florence Stone, who voted in Fairfax.

"You feel a little bit more vulnerable" without a curtain, said Maureen Malcom, who also voted in Fairfax.

Ken Jensen, a Mantua resident said the voting machines looked like the replay monitors in professional football games.

David MacClary, the chief of elections at the Kena Temple on Route 50, said representatives from the machines' manufacturer fixed two machines that had gone down.

"We're all up and running now," he said.

Jim Hyland, the Republican candidate for Providence District supervisor, who spent the morning at the Kena Temple said, "The anecdotal evidence, at least at this place, doesn't speak too well."

At Aldrin Elementary School in Reston, Election Officer Randy Causey said the new machines were "working better than I'd hoped for."

But one of the machines at Aldrin was shut down because the screen was being "a little flaky," he said.