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Error increased Bush's tally in Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- An error with an electronic voting system gave President Bush 3,893 extra votes in suburban Columbus, elections officials said.

Franklin County's unofficial results had Bush with 4,258 votes to John F. Kerry's 260 votes in a precinct in Gahanna. Records indicate that only 638 voters cast ballots in that precinct. Bush's total should have been recorded as 365.

Bush won the state by more than 136,000 votes, according to unofficial results, and Kerry conceded the election Wednesday after saying that 155,000 provisional ballots yet to be counted in Ohio would not change the result.

Deducting the erroneous Bush votes from his total could not change the election's outcome, and there were no signs of other problems with Ohio's electronic machines, said Carlo LoParo, spokesman for Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell.

Franklin is the only Ohio county to use ELECTronic 1242, an older-style touch-screen voting system made by Danaher Controls Inc. Danaher did not return a message for comment late yesterday.

Sean Greene, research director for the nonpartisan Election Reform Information Project, said that while the glitch seemed minor "that could change if more of these stories start coming out."

In Atlanta, a national voting rights group said yesterday it documented hundreds of voting irregularities affecting poor and minority voters in seven Southern states -- from long lines and faulty equipment to deliberate voter intimidation.

"While the United States of America is a strong democracy, it is also a flawed democracy," said Keith Jennings, director of Count Every Vote 2004, formed after the disputed 2000 election.

The group sent monitors Tuesday to 700 precincts in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina to observe such issues as the timely opening of polls, the presence of correct ballots and functioning machines, and the impartiality of elections officials.

Among their preliminary findings, the group listed a shortage of early voting locations in Duval County, Fla., the largest county in Florida in area and voting-age population, the failure of electronic voting machines in three South Carolina counties, and the loss of votes at a North Carolina precinct when too much information was stored on a computer unit.

"In one case, sprinklers came on while people were waiting to vote and the poll workers didn't know how to turn them off," said Alma Ayala, who monitored voting in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Volunteers with the organization met yesterday at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta -- where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached -- to compile their findings and plan for collecting new information.

In the Ohio precinct in question, the votes are recorded to eight memory locations, including a removable cartridge, according to Verified Voting Foundation, a group that monitors electronic voting. After voting ends, the cartridge is either transported to a tabulation facility or its data are sent via modem.

Kimball Brace, president of the consulting firm Election Data Services, said the fault might lie with the software that tallies the votes from individual cartridges.

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