Weatherford Democrat

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May 25, 2010

Former candidates question election procedures

WEATHERFORD — Sherry Watson, a candidate for mayor, and Joshua Tarbay and Eric Matthews, who ran for Place 3 and Place 4 council seats, made the open records request via a hand delivered letter dated May 17. The candidates are asking that election results be retained on the voting machines rather than having the data erased and the machines prepared for the next election.

Parten, who said his office has acquiesced to the former candidates’ request, reported Watson, Tarbay and Matthews have not demanded a vote recount or filed a lawsuit in district court to contest the election’s results. The deadline for requesting a recount was Thursday, he said, but a lawsuit contesting election results can be filed up to 60 days following an election.

Candidates are, however, calling into question both Parten’s adherence to election procedures and the reliability of electronic voting machines.

“We are pretty sure that we have some voter irregularities,” Watson said, “and we need to seek the truth.”

“To my knowledge, the machines were not certified or tested at the close of voting to make sure they had not been tampered with,” Tarbay said. “You have to follow every single measure of security. Every “I” has not been dotted. Every “T” has not been crossed.”

In addition, Tarbay said he has an issue with the validity of machine ballots in general and believes “filing one small protocol” will “raise awareness.” ”I am not insinuating voter fraud,” he said. “I believe the citizens have had their say.”

May 8 election results showed Tarbay with 694 votes to 1,020 cast for his opponent, incumbent Waymon Hamilton. Watson’s supporters numbered 618 to 1,113 votes cast for Mayor Dennis Hooks. A third incumbent, Craig Swancy, won with 1,024 votes over 697 cast for Matthews.

Responding to questions about state requirements for the testing of voting machines, Parten told The Weatherford Democrat he had violated a statute that dictates the second of three reliability tests be done immediately before the ballots are scheduled to be cast. Instead, he said the second test was completed after the ballots were cast.

“We did that incorrectly,” he said. 

The first test was completed before the ballots were cast, Parten said, but not immediately before, “probably April 22 or 23.”

Parten said the error in scheduling would not affect vote tallies because the test mode itself is separate from the mode that determines those tallies.

The tests are used to see if the system is working properly, he said. If all the votes that are being cast are in the system, for example, or if blank ballots or over votes are being rejected. The total vote tally is deemed accurate if all three tests (done before, during and after the election) show the same results.

Watson also questions the credibility of the Hart Intercivic voting machines, which were purchased by the county in 2005. Parten, however, who has spent 40 years as an election official, defends the machines’ track record.

As it stands, about 100 pieces of voting equipment — including voting machines — are in the process of leaving the county annex, where, despite being caged, locked and sealed, they are still exposed to “in and out traffic.”

Instead, commissioners have approved a 13-month, $1,400 contract with Colonial Self-Storage to store the equipment in an air-conditioned environment that will be monitored around the clock.

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