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Elections and Voter Information

Voter Information

Election Advisory No. 2014-18

To: Elections Officials
From: Keith Ingram, Director of Elections
Date: October 7, 2014
RE: Central Counting and Central Accumulation Station Procedures

This advisory is to remind you of several procedures that must be followed when ballots are counted at a central counting station or when vote totals are electronically accumulated at a central accumulation station. Using these procedures will assist you in obtaining an accurate count on election night. If you have any questions regarding these procedures, please contact our Legal Department toll-free at 1-800-252-2216, Option 2.

On election night, the central counting station (“the CCS”) is the place where optical scan ballots, that are not counted either manually or by an automatic precinct tabulator are tabulated by a (usually) high-speed processing scanner. The central accumulation station (“the CAS”) is the place where the results of direct recording electronic (“DRE”) voting equipment or automatic precinct tabulators are accumulated to produce a final report. Many Texas counties need both a CCS (for example, to count mail ballots) and a CAS (for example, to accumulate the results from the precinct DRE voting equipment, such as the iVotronic or eSlate, or from the precinct tabulators, such as the M-100 or eScan). The CCS and the CAS are the same place, and the central counting station personnel also serve as the central accumulation station personnel. Except where Subchapter F of Chapter 127 and Chapter 129 of the Texas Election Code provide different procedures for automatic precinct tabulating equipment and DREs, the provisions of Chapter 127 governing the CCS apply to the CAS. See Sections 127.001 & 129.001(b), Tex. Elec. Code.

Central Counting Station Personnel

The CCS is composed of several groups of people. They are the CCS manager (“the manager”) and the manager’s clerks; the tabulation supervisor and assistant tabulation supervisors; and the presiding judge of the CCS (“the presiding judge”), the alternate judge of the CCS (“the alternate judge”), and clerks.

The authority establishing the CCS is responsible for appointing the manager, the tabulation supervisor, and the presiding and alternate judges. Although assistant tabulation supervisors are appointed by the tabulation supervisor, their appointment must be approved by the authority establishing the CCS. For the General Election for State and County Officers, the appointing authority is county commissioners court. If a political subdivision other than a county is also having an election on the same General Election date, then the governing body of that political subdivision also needs to establish a CCS and appoint CCS personnel if its ballots are being counted or its vote totals accumulated at a central station. (If the political subdivision is doing a joint election with the county or contracting with the county for election services, then the political subdivision may appoint the county’s manager, tabulation supervisor, presiding judge, and alternate judge as its CCS personnel.)

The manager, the tabulation supervisor, the presiding and alternate judges, and the clerks must meet the eligibility requirements for a precinct election judge (except as noted below) and must be registered voters of the political subdivision served by the authority establishing the CCS. (However, a clerk is not ineligible if he or she is the general custodian of election records, an employee of the custodian, or any other employee of the political subdivision because the clerk is a qualified voter of another county or because the custodian is a candidate or office holder.) Assistant tabulation supervisors are not required to meet the eligibility criteria for precinct election judges or to be registered voters of the political subdivision establishing the CCS.

1. Manager

The manager is in charge of the overall supervision of the CCS and must have a written plan for operation of the CCS. The manager, as well as the presiding judge, may appoint clerks to perform duties at the CCS. The manager is entitled to compensation in an amount fixed by the authority establishing the CCS. To be eligible for appointment, the manager must have knowledge and experience in the conduct of elections with the electronic voting system for which the CCS is established. Employees of a political subdivision are not disqualified from appointment as manager and, if appointed, may be paid additional compensation for their services. The general custodian of election records is eligible for appointment as the manager, even if the custodian is a candidate or officeholder.

2. Tabulation Supervisor

The tabulation supervisor is responsible for counting the ballots and preparing the necessary reports such as the canvass, and the overvote and undervote reports. The tabulation supervisor is responsible for the security of the program and ensures that no person, other than assistant tabulation supervisors, operate the tabulation equipment. If the tabulation supervisor is not the programmer, the tabulation supervisor must approve the program used to count the ballots prior to election day. To be eligible for appointment, the tabulation supervisor must be trained in the operation of the automatic tabulating equipment installed at the CCS. Employees of a political subdivision are not disqualified from appointment as the tabulation supervisor. The tabulation supervisor is entitled to compensation in an amount fixed by the authority establishing the CCS.

3. Presiding Judge

The presiding judge and the alternate judge are appointed in the same manner as polling place officials provided in Section 32.002 of the Texas Election Code. In the General Election for State and County Officers, county commissioners court must appoint the presiding judge and alternate judge from the lists of names provided by the county chairs. The presiding judge has the same authority as a precinct election judge with respect to maintaining order and administering oaths. This authority also includes resolving any questions about voter intent on a ballot. If the manager determines that ballots will be duplicated or manually counted, and then the clerks will duplicate or hand count the ballots, but the presiding judge will resolve any questions concerning voter intent. The presiding judge may also confer and advise the manager and tabulation supervisor on the operation of the CCS. If the presiding judge is absent, the alternate judge shall serve in the capacity of presiding judge; otherwise, the alternate judge performs the duties assigned by the presiding judge. The presiding judge is the custodian of the testing materials prepared for the test until the materials are delivered to the general custodian of election records following the third test. If personnel are granted temporary absence from the CCS while the polls are still open and the counting of ballots has begun, the presiding judge shall supervise those absences.

After the tabulation supervisor has prepared the necessary reports for canvass, the presiding judge must certify their accuracy and prepare documents for proper distribution. If the results are being transmitted via modem to the CCS, the presiding judge is responsible for comparing the results transmitted with the results printed at the precinct and delivered to the CCS. The presiding judge must also deliver counted ballots and other election materials to the proper authority.

Proper Testing of Ballots and Programming

1. Automatic Tabulating Equipment (Sections 127.091-127.100, Tex. Elec. Code)

Three tests are performed when using automatic tabulating equipment. All three tests are conducted using the exact same test data. The first test is conducted at least 48 hours before election day with a public notice being published in the newspaper at least 48 hours before the test. The second test, which uses the same test data, is performed immediately before the official ballots are to be counted. The final test is performed immediately after all ballots have been counted.

The testing board consists of the programmer, the tabulation supervisor, the manager, and the presiding judge.

Each political subdivision is required to have a test deck of ballots for every precinct. The test deck must be prepared on the same ballot stock as the official ballots. The test deck must include overvotes and undervotes in every race, straight party voting for every political party printed on the ballot, cross-over voting in every race when marking a straight party vote, an individual vote for every single candidate printed on the ballot, emphasis voting for candidates within the same party column as the straight party mark, and write-in voting. Some vendors will supply a pre-completed test deck for you, but we strongly recommend that you devise your own test ballots. The vote totals on the test must be determined before running the test deck through the tabulator; this is accomplished by manually counting the test deck and tallying up the votes prior to running the ballots through the tabulator. After the test is run, print out a cumulative report showing the vote totals of the entire test deck for each candidate or proposition, a report showing these vote totals by precinct, and the report that shows total number of ballots counted for that precinct. The precinct reports must include the number of overvotes and undervotes for each race. Also, make sure to compare your return sheet with the official ballot to ensure all candidates are represented on the report from the test. If the public test is successful, secure the test deck with the program until election day.

A successful second test must be conducted before the official ballots are counted. After the second test is complete, follow the steps above for verification of the accuracy of the test. Once that is determined, preserve the results of the second test and zero out the tabulator and accumulator before counting the official ballots.

If the third test performed after the official ballots have been counted is unsuccessful, your count of the election is void. You must first determine the problem with your programmer, correct the problem, run a successful test, and then recount all ballots.

Please note that the Secretary of State has determined that, under Section 127.152 of the Texas Election Code, it is not feasible to conduct the second and third tests on automatic precinct tabulators and DRE machines.

On completing each test, the presiding judge shall place the test ballots and other test materials in a container provided for that purpose and seal the container so it cannot be opened without breaking the seal. The manager, tabulation supervisor, presiding judge, and not more than two poll watchers, if one or more watchers are present, shall sign the seal. The test materials must remain sealed for the period for preserving the precinct election records, and the container may not be unsealed, unless the contents are necessary to conduct a test under Subchapter D of Chapter 127 of the Texas Election Code, a criminal investigation, an election contest, or other official proceeding under the Code.

2. Logic and Accuracy Testing for DRE Equipment (Sections 129.022-129.024, Tex. Elec. Code)

Proper logic and accuracy testing of the accumulation software is required before the election night results may be accumulated, as prescribed in Section 129.023 of the Texas Election Code and Election Advisory No. 2014-06, “Electronic Voting System Procedures.” The test must be designed to determine whether the central accumulator system accurately tabulates results from the electronic files used to count ballots voted in the election. The electronic files created from the logic and accuracy testing for the election must be used in the process of this test.

The logic and accuracy test, of which an automatic tabulation test constitutes a part, must be performed not later than 48 hours before voting begins on a voting system. It is the recommendation of the Secretary of State’s office that such testing be done before mail ballots are sent out. Notice of the test must be published in a local newspaper not later than 48 hours before the test begins.

The testing board consists of at least two persons who are appointed by the general custodian of election records. The custodian must make every reasonable effort to ensure that the testing board consists of at least one person from each political party that holds a primary election.

A test is successful if the actual results of the logic and accuracy test are identical to the expected results.

After the test, the general custodian of election records shall place the test ballots and other test materials in a container provided for that purpose and seal the container so it cannot be opened without breaking the seal. The custodian and at least two members of the testing board shall sign the seal. The test materials must remain sealed for the period for preserving the precinct election records, and the container may not be unsealed, unless the contents are necessary to conduct a test under Subchapter B of Chapter 129 of the Texas Election Code, a criminal investigation, an election contest, or other official proceeding under the Code.

Preliminary Sort of Optical Scan Ballots and Counting at the CCS

1. Ballot Box Security

The governing body, when establishing the CCS, must follow Subchapter C of Chapter 127 of the Texas Election Code. The ballot box used at the precinct for the deposit of cast ballots must be locked and sealed (called pre-locked and pre-sealed) prior to the precinct election judge picking up the box for use on election day. The lock and the seal must be on the same hatch of the ballot box, which prevents the box from being opened unless both the lock and the seal are removed. The slot of the box for depositing ballots must also be sealed either with a wire hasp seal or a paper seal, depending on the design of the box. The slot of the ballot box for depositing ballots must be resealed before delivery to the CCS. Before sealing the slot, the precinct election judge must complete a ballot and seal certificate stating the number of ballots in the box, as shown by the number of voters who signed the signature roster (or combination form), the number of provisional ballots as shown on the list of provisional voters and the serial number of the seal used to seal the slot. The original of the ballot and seal certificate must be deposited in the box before the seal is placed on the slot.

2. Receipt of Ballot Boxes

The presiding judge or his or her designee is responsible for receiving the ballot boxes at the CCS; any reference in this advisory regarding actions of the presiding judge should be taken to include a counting station clerk acting as the judge’s designee. A list of the serial numbers of the seals used to seal the ballot boxes before election day and a list of serial numbers of seals given to the precinct election judge to use to seal the slot of the box on election night must be prepared and given to the presiding judge. When the presiding judge receives the boxes, the judge must make sure the serial numbers of the seals used to secure the boxes before election day and at the close of the polls are the same as the serial numbers on the lists. Once this check is made, the presiding judge must issue the precinct election judge a receipt confirming the ballot box serial numbers. If there is a discrepancy in the serial numbers, the presiding judge must make a notation of this on the receipt. The original of the receipt is then given to the precinct election judge, and a copy of the receipt is kept by the presiding judge. The presiding judge must inspect the box for its contents and make sure all the records are delivered with the box; the presiding judge must check that the ballot and seal certificate is delivered in the ballot box.

3. Sorting, Duplication, and Voter Intent

The presiding judge will instruct the counting station clerks to do a preliminary sort of the ballots before counting. The clerks must first separate out the provisional ballot envelopes from the other ballots and verify the number of provisional ballots received in the box is the same number as shown on the list of provisional voters. The provisional ballots are delivered to the general custodian of records along with the list. The other ballots are then sorted for write-in votes, partially-invalid ballots, damaged ballots, and irregularly-marked ballots. This sorting must be completed before ballots are counted. After the ballots have been sorted, they are delivered to the manager. The manager will determine whether ballots are to be duplicated for counting by the voting system or whether they will be hand-counted. If the ballots are to be duplicated, the presiding judge shall have his/her clerks duplicate the ballots. It is the presiding judge that has the authority to determine the intent of the voter if there is a question on the ballot. The duplication team must record the serial number of the original ballot on the duplicate ballot and vice versa. After reviewing the irregularly marked ballots and duplicating ballots to indicate voter intent, as determined by the presiding judge, the manager shall accept the ballots for counting. If the manager determines to hand count these ballots, the presiding judge shall assign his/her clerks into tally teams to perform the hand count.

4. Counting; Write-In Votes

Since all ballot boxes will be pre-locked and pre-sealed, thereby preventing precinct election judges from having any access to voted ballots on election day, write-in votes must be counted at the CCS. After the ballots have been hand-sorted and any irregularly-marked ballots are resolved and duplicated if necessary, the ballots will be sent to the tabulators. The tabulators can be set to stop when a ballot containing a write-in vote is counted. These ballots may then be set aside to be delivered to a tally team to count the write-in votes for the declared write-in candidates. It is important to keep track of these ballots to ensure that, after the manual tally of the write-in votes is completed, the ballots are returned to the box containing other ballots for that precinct and stored properly. For a more in-depth discussion regarding counting write-in votes, please refer to Election Advisory No. 2014-20, “Processing and Counting Write-In Votes Cast on Electronic Voting Systems.”

5. Tabulation of Overvotes & Undervotes

Section 127.1301 of the Texas Election Code requires the tabulation of overvotes and undervotes by office and proposition and by election precinct. The tabulation device may do this automatically. If not, the manager will have to provide a record of this information by hand. The record is preserved with other election records for the twenty-two month federal retention period and for the 60-day preservation period, as applicable.

Preparation for and Accumulating Voting Results from Automatic Precinct Tabulators and DREs

Automatic precinct tabulating equipment requires voters to deposit their ballots directly into the tabulator unit at the early voting location or polling place. The tabulator unit compiles vote totals by ballot sorting, ballot reading, ballot scanning, or electronic data processing. Voters directly vote on DRE voting equipment by manual touch of a screen, monitor, or other device, and the equipment records the individual votes and vote totals electronically. The results from automatic precinct tabulating equipment and from DRE voting equipment are printed out on tapes from the equipment after the polls close and the last voter at the polls has voted. The results are also contained on the electronic information storage medium stored within the election equipment. The medium is run through the central accumulator system to produce a cumulative result and precinct reports. Neither the automatic precinct tabulating equipment nor the DRE voting equipment can tabulate a write-in vote, other than to indicate that a write-in vote has been cast.

1. Security of Electronic Information Storage Medium and Voting System Equipment

Just as Subchapter C of Chapter 127 of the Texas Election Code provides a method for securely delivering the sealed ballot boxes containing voted ballots from the polling place to the CCS, the general custodian of records is required to provide for the secure delivery of electronic information storage medium from the polling place to the CAS. Sections 129.051 and 129.052 of the Texas Election Code require the general custodian of election records (in the General Election for State and County Officers, the county clerk or county elections administrator is the custodian) to (i) maintain an inventory of all electronic information storage medium; (ii) develop a procedure for tracking the custody of all electronic information storage medium from the time they are brought out of the storage location, through election coding and the election process, and returned to storage; (iii) establish a secured location where electronic information storage medium can be stored when not in use, coded for an election, and transferred to and installed into the voting system equipment and the voting system equipment stored after the election parameters are loaded; (iv) create a procedure for tracking voting system equipment once the election parameters are loaded; and (v) adopt procedures for securely transporting voting system equipment. In summary, the general custodian of election records establishes the procedures that the personnel at the CAS must follow when the voting equipment and/or the election information storage medium is brought in by the precinct election judge (or his/her designated election clerk) on election night.

2. Receipt of Electronic Information Storage Medium and Voting System Equipment

The chain of custody must require two or more individuals to perform a check and verification check whenever a transfer of custody occurs of the electronic information storage medium and voting system equipment. This means that when the medium is brought by the precinct election judge (or the election clerk designated by him or her) to the CAS after the polls close on election night, whether it is secured in a bag with lock and seal approved by the Secretary of State’s office or remains secured in the precinct voting system equipment, the CCS/CAS personnel designated (in accordance with the plan for counting/accumulating station operation developed by the manager) must perform a check and verification check to establish that the chain of custody has occurred and been maintained. Once the medium has been removed from the bag or the voting system equipment, the CCS/CAS personnel designated in accordance with the manager’s plan will deliver the medium to the tabulation supervisor.

3. Sorting, Duplicating, and Voter Intent

There are fewer voter intent errors when using DRE voting equipment. However, a voter may still misspell a declared write-in candidate’s name and in that event, these “ballots” need to be reviewed for voter intent. All write-in votes that are not written exactly as the name appears on the list of declared write-ins must be reviewed at the CAS for voter intent. The presiding judge determines the voter intent. This is done by printing out a report listing all the various irregular write-in entries (entries that do not match exactly the name as it appears on the list of declared write-ins), printing a list showing write-in votes, or using the printed election results from each precinct. The presiding judge reviews the list and determines which ones may be accepted and which ones must be rejected. Each DRE voting system treats the process of accepting or rejecting a write-in vote slightly differently, but they all involve the same manner of review for voter intent at the CCS/CAS.

The law requires that all optical scan ballots tabulated by automatic precinct tabulators be reviewed for irregular marks. If the voters deposit their ballots directly into a unit of automatic tabulating equipment at the election day polling place, while the polls are open or as soon as practicable after the polls close, the election officers must remove the counted ballots from the ballot box and examine them for irregular marks. The ballot box may not be opened for such purpose unless there are at least 10 ballots in the box. If an election officer determines that two or more ballots were improperly tabulated because of irregular marks, the irregularly-marked ballots shall be separated from those that were marked properly, and all of the ballots shall be delivered to a central counting station. At the central counting station, the irregularly-marked ballots must be duplicated and all the ballots are processed as though they were ballots counted at a central counting station. The tabulation conducted at the central counting station becomes the official tabulation of those ballots. If just one ballot is found to be irregularly-marked, then just that one ballot is examined at the central counting station, and adjustments made to the totals certified by the election judge. The election results for the affected precinct must be manually entered into the election processing system. See, Section 127.157, Tex. Elec. Code.

For a more in-depth discussion regarding counting write-in votes on DRE voting equipment and automatic precinct tabulators, please refer to Election Advisory No. 2014-20, “Processing and Counting Write-In Votes Cast on Electronic Voting Systems.”

4. Accumulating

After uploading the precinct results (usually by inserting the election information storage medium into a card reader) to the central accumulator system, the presiding judge must verify for each election precinct and document that the central accumulator’s record of number of votes cast matches the number of votes cast shown on the tapes from the voting equipment printed out at the election precinct’s polling place and the number of signatures on the combination form. If there is a discrepancy, the presiding judge determines if further audit is necessary.

Checklist for the Central Counting Station

□ All ballot boxes are delivered and a comparison of serial numbers of seal and log is made to be sure the correct seal has been placed on the box, according to the log of distributed seals. Wire hasp seals are properly kept.

□ All election records are received at the CCS.

□ Ballot and seal certificate is located in ballot box.

□ Ballots are sorted and resolved or duplicated before delivery to tabulation supervisor. Provisional ballots are delivered to the general custodian of records with the list of provisional voters.

□ Before the tabulation of ballots is started, the second test is successfully run.

□ All voted ballots are carefully tracked as they move through the counting station. Some counties create “tracking sheets” that follow each precinct’s ballots, and a clerk signs off on the sheet at each stage in the counting process (sorting, duplicating when necessary, beginning counting, finishing counting, storage area.). This ensures that all ballots are counted and that none are counted twice.

□ Duplicated ballots are properly noted and the serial number of the original ballot is written on the duplicate ballot and vice versa. Original ballots that are duplicated are placed in an envelope designated for such purpose and are locked in the appropriate ballot box with other ballots from the same precinct.

□ All ballots are counted and verified against the ballot and seal certificate.

□ Status report is printed and it is verified that all precincts had been counted.

□ Precinct report is printed showing the number of ballots counted for each precinct.

□ Cumulative report is printed indicating all votes from all precincts are included in the cumulative report.

□ The audit log is examined for counting interruptions, unauthorized equipment tampering, or any other activity that might make the vote totals questionable.

□ All reports are printed in number of copies statutorily required.

□ Precinct returns are backed up to disk or tape if applicable to system.

□ The third test is successful and results are verified with test results. (If the third test is not successful after retry, the ballots must be counted manually or another tabulator must be secured from the vendor or a neighboring county.)

□ All ballot boxes containing voted ballots are properly locked, with an indication on the outside of each box showing which precinct’s ballots are contained in that box. Keys to ballot box locks are properly distributed. For ballot boxes that have a flap to cover the slot for the deposit of ballots, a log recording the serial number of the wire hasp seal used to seal slot is kept and signed by two election officials.

Checklist for the Central Accumulation Station

□ In the case of ballots from automatic precinct tabulators to be counted under Sections 127.156 and 127.157 of the Texas Election Code, if any, all secured ballot containers are delivered and a comparison of serial numbers of seal and log is made to be sure the correct seal has been placed on the box, according to the log of distributed seals. Wire hasp seals are properly kept.

□ In the case of automatic precinct tabulators and DRE voting machines, all electronic information storage medium are delivered to the CCS/CAS secured either in a bag with lock and seal approved by the Secretary of State’s office or in the precinct voting system equipment. The CCS/CAS personnel designated (in accordance with the plan for counting/accumulating station operation developed by the manager) must perform a check and verification check to establish that the chain of custody has occurred and been maintained and otherwise follow the security procedures developed by the general custodian of election records.

□ All election records are received at the CAS.

□ If applicable, ballot and seal certificate is located in the secured ballot container.

□ If applicable, ballots are sorted and resolved or duplicated before delivery to tabulation supervisor. Provisional ballots are delivered to the general custodian of records with the list of provisional voters. Duplicated ballots are properly noted and the serial number of the original ballot is written on the duplicate ballot and vice versa. Original ballots that are duplicated are placed in an envelope designated for such purpose and are locked in the appropriate ballot box with other ballots from the same precinct.

□ If applicable, before the tabulation of ballots is started, the second test is successfully run.

□ If applicable, all ballots are counted and verified against the ballot and seal certificate.

□ If applicable, all voted ballots are carefully tracked as they move through the counting station. Some counties create “tracking sheets” that follow each precinct’s ballots, and a clerk signs off on the sheet at each stage in the counting process (sorting, duplicating when necessary, beginning counting, finishing counting, storage area.). This ensures that all ballots are counted and that none are counted twice.

□ All electronic storage media are tracked as they move through the counting station, ensuring that all media are accumulated and none are left out.

□ After the tabulation supervisor uploads the precinct results from the medium to the central accumulator system, the presiding judge must verify and document that the central accumulator’s record of number of votes cast matches the number of signatures on the combination form or ballot and seal certificate for that precinct. The presiding judge must also verify that the central accumulator’s vote results match those on the tapes that were printed at the polling place. If there is a discrepancy, the presiding judge determines if a further audit is necessary.

□ If applicable, after the tabulation of ballots is completed, the third test is successfully run and the results are verified with test results. (If the third test is not successful after retry, the ballots must be counted manually or another tabulator must be secured from the vendor or a neighboring county.)

□ For automatic precinct tabulators using prom pak (or other device), precinct returns printed from prom pak at the CCS/CAS are compared to the precinct returns printed at the precinct level, to ensure that that precinct totals match.

□ For automatic precinct tabulators using modem transfer, a comparison of returns transferred via modem to the CAS is made with precinct returns printed at precinct level.

□ Status report is printed and it is verified that all precincts had been counted.

□ Precinct report is printed showing the number of ballots counted for each precinct.

□ Cumulative report is printed indicating all votes from all precincts are included in the cumulative report.

□ The audit log is examined for counting interruptions, unauthorized equipment tampering, or any other activity that might make the vote totals questionable.

□ All reports are printed in number of copies statutorily required.

□ If applicable all ballot boxes containing voted ballots are properly locked, with an indication on the outside of each box showing which precinct’s ballots are contained in that box. Keys to ballot box locks are properly distributed. For ballot boxes that have a flap to cover the slot for the deposit of ballots, a log recording the serial number of the wire hasp seal used to seal slot is kept and signed by two election officials.

□ Precinct returns are backed up to disk or tape if applicable to system.

□ Prior to the local canvass, the election official must verify that the vote total(s) printed at the precinct match the reports generated by the CAS.

Following these procedures ensures that state law is correctly followed, but perhaps even more importantly, ensures that the election authority has taken all precautions to ensure accurate election night results. If you have questions about any of these procedures, please contact the Elections Division toll-free at 1-800-252-2216.

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