Vote Recounts Are Questioned

WHEELING – Election night results taken from touchscreen voting machines are considered more accurate than a human recount of votes, Ohio County elections officials learned last week prior to a recount of votes in Wheeling’s 2nd Ward council race.

Richard Lockhart, a representative of Casto and Harris of Spencer, W.Va. – the firm that operates touchscreen voting machines in West Virginia – informed local elections officials of this prior to the start of Tuesday’s recount of votes cast in the 2nd Ward race.

“From my experience – any time I’ve seen discrepancy in the numbers, the error is always because of human error,” he said. “If they go back and count again, the machines are always spot on.

“It’s natural. Any time humans are involved, there’s going to be human error.”

Candidate Charles Ballouz requested Tuesday’s recount after unofficial election night results showed Ballouz losing the 2nd Ward council race to Ken Imer by two votes. There were six candidates in the race, and a total of 702 ballots cast in the 2nd Ward.

During the recount, Ballouz gained one vote, but still lost to Imer by just one vote, 175-174. Candidate Tony Domenick, meanwhile, lost one vote in the recount.

Ohio County Elections Coordinator Toni Chieffalo said it’s likely a vote for Domenick was mistakenly read off as one for Ballouz.

She believes, however, her workers did a very competent job with the recount. She could not further explain how or where a mistake was made during the process.

When asked if an independent firm should be used to handle recounts, she referred the matter to West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant’s office.

During recounts, elections workers – many of them volunteers – read off to each other the votes as tabulated on spools of receipt tape taken from the voting machines on election night.

“With a hand count there’s more of a margin for human error,” Chieffalo said. “When looking at the rolls, maybe they (election workers) misread the name.”

The rolls also become confusing in instances where the voter has first voted for one candidate, then goes back at the end and switches that vote for a second candidate.

The receipt notes both the first vote and the later change in the voter’s decision, and election workers conducting the recount have to be watchful of this, she added.

“I feel confident the recount was complete,” Chieffalo said. “I have nothing more to say.”

Ballouz posted a $25 bond to get the recount, and she added Ohio County commissioners will decide at their meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday whether they will return the check.

Vote totals after Tuesday’s recount showed Imer with 175 votes; Ballouz, 174; Aaron Wilkinson, 115; Alex Coogan, 99; Desmond Lekanudos, 70; and Domenick, 69.

A prior canvass of ballots added just one vote to election night totals, and that vote was for Wilkinson.

Prior to the recount, Chieffalo said election workers rechecked the flash cards and “personal electronic ballots” contained within the voting machines on election night. Readouts were the same as the initial vote canvass that showed Imer winning by two votes, she said.

Human error could have a greater impact on a recount in races where thousands of votes are tabulated – especially in congressional district or statewide races. West Virginia law isn’t specific as to whether a second recounting of votes is warranted when an election outcome is reversed by an initial recount.

A guide for recounts prepared by the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office states “each precinct can only be recounted one time.” However, if after recounting a precinct the results do not match the canvass results, the ballots and tallies can be checked in order to discover any error in reading the ballots or marking and computing the tally figures.

The law, though, doesn’t state whether a candidate can request a second recounting of ballots to account for possible human error in the first recount.

Jake Glance, spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office, said the office could not decide a ruling on situations that have not occurred.

While it may seem recounts aren’t needed in the electronic age, he added there is a need for hand recounts as a backup.

“Recounts are a vital part of the elections process,” Glance said. “It’s a right that each candidate has, and a process that is clearly defined in state code. It’s a process that provides reassurance not only to the candidate, but to the voter as well – that the results of an election are an accurate reflection of the will of the people.

“As for the ‘accuracy’ of a count provided by machine and those provided by hand, the election results that are produced by a counting machine are only as good as the data that is entered into it. There are arguments to be made for and against both methods of counting.”