Wednesday, March 29, 2006

'06 Primary voting-machine troubles raise concerns

USA Today; Washington/Politics
By Jim Drinkard, USA TODAY
Posted 3/27/2006 11:36 PM Updated 3/28/2006 7:04 AM
States receiving the most federal money to upgrade voting systems since the Help America Vote Act was passed in 2002 (in millions).
By Marcy E. Mullins, USA TODAY, Source: U.S. Election Assistance Commission

WASHINGTON — Problems using voting machines in the Texas and Illinois primaries this month have reinforced fears that the 2006 elections may be beset with glitches.

"There's a lot of evidence that some of those fears are coming to pass," says Doug Chapin, president of, a non-partisan group that studies elections. "The theory that new technology results in error seems to be borne out early in the process."

More than 30 million Americans will be voting on unfamiliar equipment this year, after modernization required by the Help America Vote Act. Congress passed the law in 2002 to address problems stemming from the 2000 presidential election in Florida.

Among early trouble spots:

• The largest jurisdictions in Illinois, Chicago and Cook County, encountered problems in the March 21 primary. In some cases, precinct election judges didn't get hands-on training before the election. There were paper jams, misplaced memory cartridges containing election results and long delays in counting.

Cook County Clerk David Orr says some problems were the result of introducing two new machines in each precinct: a touch-screen ballot and a machine that optically scans paper ballots. "We had our share of problems, but you expect it with new stuff," Orr says.

• In Texas, a candidate for the state Supreme Court will contest the March 7 primary because of what he calls widespread problems using new machines.

In Fort Worth, an initial ballot count showed about 150,000 votes even though there were only one-third that many voters, says David Rogers, campaign manager for the candidate, Steve Smith. And in San Angelo, balky new equipment and a close local race led to a recount that was halted after it appeared some votes were missing.

A spokesman for the secretary of state's office, Scott Haywood, says human factors accounted for any glitches, and they have been fixed. "Anytime you are using a new system, officials have to get used to it," he says. "Our biggest focus now is to increase training."

The next test: 10 states hold primaries in May, including Pennsylvania, which is scrambling to train voters and poll workers.

The state is "a disaster waiting to happen," says John Gideon, director of, a group that is skeptical about electronic voting.

The task is manageable, counters Michelle Shafer of Sequoia Voting Systems, an equipment maker that has customers in Pennsylvania and 19 other states. "We have seen this coming and have ramped up as best we can," and will be ready by November, she says.


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