THOUSANDS OF VOTES DISCOUNTED IN GUAM RACES

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By Steve Limtiaco

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Sept. 5) - The Guam Election Commission once again failed to count electronic ballots cast in at least one village precinct during the Primary Election, and there possibly are six other precincts whose electronic ballots were not counted.

Election Commission Executive Director Gerald Taitano said he doesn't know what happened to 119 electronic ballots cast in the Asan/Maina precinct during Saturday's election, but speculated that the electronic card containing those ballots was not counted on election night. "We're looking into that," he said.

The commission members met yesterday and decided they could not certify the election results.

The Pacific Daily News noted that there are six other precincts for which electronic ballots have not been reported, and Taitano said he has not verified whether there were any electronic votes cast in those precincts. Election Commission Chairman Fred Horecky yesterday evening said it is possible there were no functioning electronic voting machines in some of those six precincts -- many machines were working --but he was uncertain.

The precincts in question include: precincts 9 and 9A in Talofofo; precinct 10 in Yona; precinct 12A in Sinajana; and precincts 18E and 18F in Dededo.

The same problem occurred during the 2004 General Election, when the commission on election night overlooked 84 electronic ballots cast by voters in Mangilao -- an oversight that was pointed out by the Pacific Daily News the day after that election.

Taitano last week told the Pacific Daily News that new procedures had been put in place to ensure that electronic ballots would not be forgotten this time. This is the third time the island has used electronic voting machines in its elections. The machines are federally funded and were purchased to improve the accuracy of elections.

The uncounted electronic ballots could influence the outcome of the Democratic legislative primary, where fewer than 200 votes separate eliminated candidates from the 15 candidates who will move on to the General Election in November.

Taitano said any electronic votes still are secured at the Election Commission offices in Hagåtña. Guam police officers were assigned to guard the ballots on election night, but they were relieved of duty after the ballots were moved from the University of Guam field house the following day.

The issue of missing electronic ballots was raised by the Pacific Daily News after yesterday's Election Commission meeting, where commission members already had decided they could not certify the election results because the numbers were not adding up.

"These numbers are different from the ones we signed on election night," Horecky told Taitano during the meeting.

Taitano said the commission staff was attempting to verify the final election results, but speculated that ballots dropped into the wrong boxes in the Tamuning precinct could be part of the reason for inconsistent vote numbers.

"I'm not very pleased with this election," Gerald Taitano said. He said the commission intends to give precinct officials more training before the General Election.

Commission members weren't happy with the election, either.

Republican commission member Mary Torres expressed concern about the conduct of the election, saying it appeared precinct officials were not following protocol, "to the point they were making up instructions," given to voters.

"They were creating their own (instructions)," added Republican commission member John Taitano. "I think that's where a great deal of our problems came."

At least 2,000 paper ballots were not counted because voters failed to heed the warning against crossing over and voted for candidates from different parties.

Democratic legislative candidate Vicente Garrido filed a grievance with the commission, alleging that one voter was told by precinct officials she could vote for as many as 21 legislative candidates. Voters can select only 15 legislative candidates, and any more than 15 would invalidate all of their votes for senator.

Torres said she is worried about the training that was given to precinct workers and said she also was concerned about the way the precincts were set up. Noise and activity made it difficult for voters to hear instructions, she said.

Torres also said the failure to feed precinct workers on Election Day likely contributed to their inability to effectively reconcile their ballot counts when they arrived at the tabulation center. They were tired and hungry, she said. Some precinct workers remained at the tabulation center for much of the night because they could not get their ballot count to match the commission's count.

Democratic legislative candidate Ivan Carbullido during yesterday's commission meeting accused the commission of negligence in the way it handled the Primary Election, calling the commission's explanations a "lame" excuse.

Carbullido rejected the commission's statements that lessons learned during the Primary Election will make the General Election better.

"Primary and General Election both are important," he said, and precinct officials should have been trained months in advance for the Primary Election. "People don't like to hear excuses nowadays." He said people invest too much personal effort supporting their candidates for the elections to be taken lightly.

Carbullido questioned whether the board intends to do anything about what happened Saturday, and said any precinct official who told voters they could select 21 candidates for Legislature should be prosecuted for conspiracy.

"I thought everyone did their homework," Carbullido said. "It's so sad."

Despite the problems with Saturday's elections, commission members stated their support for the work done by the commission staff, saying they would take the blame for any problems.

Gerald Taitano said much of what the commission could do to improve elections has been hampered by Guam's election laws.

Commission members asked Taitano to provide reports about the malfunctioning electronic machines, as well as a breakdown of the ballots that were not counted because of crossover voting. They said they intend to meet to certify the election results after they receive information from the commission staff. They did not set a date for the next meeting.

September 6, 2006

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com

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