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Ballot problem cost $19K

LAWRENCEVILLE - Thick ovals cost Gwinnett taxpayers nearly $20,000, in an election snafu this fall.

According to Gwinnett Elections Director Lynn Ledford, the reprinting of 28,000 absentee ballots after the ovals were too thick for optical scanners cost about $11,000.

The situation caused elections officials to hire extra poll workers for Election Day and buy more supplies - at a cost of about $8,000 - to transfer 15,000 votes onto corrected ballots, a process that took more than 25 hours.

Ledford said 130 to 200 people worked on the ballots at any given time during the ordeal. The workers were paid an average of $75 each.

"To us, it was a very serious issue," she said. "Luckily it did not cause us to go over budget."

With a runoff election still to go on Dec. 2, Ledford said the county has spent $3.7 million on elections this year, including February's preferential preference primary, a general primary and runoff and the general election. That compares to a total 2004 election cost of $1.7 million.

Ledford said the numbers are higher because of an effort to decrease waits at the polls, including setting up more polling locations, satellite locations for early voting and more equipment.

"We tried to do things to make it more efficient," Ledford said of the cost. "It's just the nature of the beast."

As of Friday, the elections office had issued 13,000 absentee ballots for the Dec. 2 runoff, which will include a decision on the U.S. Senate race between Saxby Chambliss and Jim Martin as well as races for Public Service Commissioner and Georgia Court of Appeals.

Ledford said runoffs often call for about 6,000 ballots, but a postcard-sized application available through the Republican Party has made the idea more popular.

The format, though, has caused about 4,000 applications to be rejected. Ledford said many people have forgotten to sign the form.

In those cases, election officials have sent a letter to the applicant, encouraging them to vote early at the Grayson Highway elections office next week or to go to the polls Dec. 2.

Ledford said the absentee ballots have already been tested and can be read by the scanners.