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Montgomery County, Pennsylvania was awarded more than $1 million Wednesday by a federal jury in its suit against an Indiana company that sold the county 900 computer voting machines that repeatedly broke down. But the jury’s award of $1,048,500 against MicroVote Corp. was just a fraction of the $4.3 million that the county was seeking. The jury also held MicroVote’s bonding company, the West Chester Fire Insurance Co., jointly liable for all but $150,000 of the verdict. Just before trial began, the county settled with the Carson Manufacturing Co., which built the machines, for $587,000. Although the jury found that MicroVote Corp. had breached its implied warranties, it rejected all of the county’s other claims, including fraud and breach of contract. In his opening statement to the jury, the county’s lawyer, John M. Elliott of Elliott Reihner Siedzikowski & Egan, argued that the county “was promised a state-of-the-art computer voting machine system. Instead, the system that it got repeatedly crashed.” Putting the county’s claim even more succinctly, Elliott said: “It was a lemon. It didn’t work. Montgomery County wants its money back.” Elliott predicted that MicroVote’s defense would consist of a “parade of excuses” in which it would “try to blame everyone but MicroVote for the many, many disastrous problems.” In the November 1995 election, Elliott said, 832 machines were used and 177 of them — 21 percent — suffered power failures. And 14,000 “ghost votes” in one race caused the media to report the wrong person as the winner. There were also ballot “misalignments,” he said, that caused confusion among voters who might have thought they were voting for a school board candidate when, in fact, they were voting for a judge. In the three elections that the county used the machines, Elliott said there were “unprecedented long, long lines” and that some people had to wait two hours to vote. Others, he said, grew frustrated and simply didn’t vote. After the disastrous November 1995 election, Elliott said the county demanded an explanation, but that MicroVote offered only “double-talk.” Elliott said MicroVote never told the county that its systems were experiencing similar problems in other states. “All they told Montgomery County was ‘Use more machines.’ Suck them in deeper. Take the taxpayers down the dark road,” Elliott said. MicroVote’s lawyer, John R. Price of Indianapolis, told the jury that MicroVote is “well-known” and “well-liked” and that it has sold more than 12,000 of the computer voting machines that are still in use today. Price said that “there has never been a perfect election,” but that the evidence would show that both the November 1995 and May 1996 elections in Montgomery County were “relatively smooth.” The problems that did occur, he said, had a variety of causes, including poll workers and lengthy ballot questions. Of more than 830 machines used in the first election, he said, only three needed to be replaced. The jury deliberated just four hours over Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning before returning a verdict that said that MicroVote machines were not “fit” for their intended purpose and that MicroVote had therefore breached its implied warranties. But by rejecting all of the county’s other claims — including a fraud claim — and by reducing the compensatory damages significantly in MicroVote’s favor, the jury awarded much less than the county had sought. Elliott was assisted in the trial by attorneys Timothy T. Myers and Brian J. McCormick. The West Chester Fire Insurance Co. was represented by Robert T. Carlton and Steven J. Woodside of Ellsworth Carlton & Waldman. U.S. District Judge Robert F. Kelly presided over the 10-day trial.

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