Thursday, March 09, 2006

Summit County, OH Voting Has 30% Failure Rate In Tests

Posted on Beacon Journal, Thu, Mar. 09, 2006

By Lisa A. Abraham, Beacon Journal staff writer

The computer memory cards in the newoptical-scan voting equipment at the Summit County Board of Elections have experienced a 30 percent failure rate in testing this week.

A spokeswoman for the company that makes the voting machines said the problem can be corrected before the May 2 primary.

A consulting company that Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell hired has been in the county since Monday testing all the new voting equipment before its planned use May 2.

Tests on Monday and Tuesday showed that about 30 percent of the computer memory cards -- which should read and store vote tabulations -- did not work, Elections Board Director Bryan Williams said. "We are noticing a high failure rate," he said Wednesday.

Election Systems & Software in Omaha, Neb., makes the machines. Williams said ES&S officials believe they have isolated the problem to the computer cards produced by one of its subcontractors. ES&S contracts with several companies to make the memory cards, Williams said.

"We're looking into the extent to which this affects others," said Ellen Bogard, spokeswoman for ES&S. "It will be remedied if there are other cards that need to be replaced."

The first 177 cards tested Monday worked flawlessly, Williams said. When testing began on the remaining 348 cards, however, the failure rate was so high that the rest were thrown out. ES&S had a second batch of cards sent to Akron on Tuesday, but Williams said those cards experienced a similar failure rate. He said a third batch is expected to arrive today.

Optical-scan voting involves a printed paper ballot that a voter marks by filling in a circle with a pencil -- similar to the way students take standardized tests. The ballots then are fed into a scanner that reads the marks and records votes on a computerized memory card.

The Summit elections board bought 525 readers -- one for each of the county's 475 voting precincts, plus 50 extras.

"With the majority of them, the memory card cannot be read by the computer," Williams said.

He said company officials told him all the cards by the particular maker have been recalled in Ohio and may be recalled nationally.

Jerry Amick, ES&S' account service manager for Ohio, said 28 Ohio counties have the company's optical-scan machines, but testing in those counties showed no problems. "No other counties in Ohio got the bad cards; they already have pre-testing done," Amick said.

He denied that the cards by this particular manufacturer were distributed nationally and said a national recall will not be necessary. Amick would not name the manufacturer.

Bogard said the cards are like a floppy disk and "are easily managed if there is an issue. The testing process worked. We've identified the problem. It will be remedied well before any election," she said.

Williams said testing of the voting equipment will continue in Summit through April.

Blackwell spokesman James Lee said the secretary of state's office is confident the problems will be fixed and said the testing of the equipment will continue. "This is all part of the testing process. This is why we test," he said.

But Wayne Jones, chairman of the elections board and one of its two Democratic members, said the problems only reaffirm for him that the wrong voting machines were selected for the county. "I had trouble with the technology to begin with, and this just reaffirms the bad decision that was made," he said.

The elections board split along party lines when deciding what voting system to buy to replace the county's punch-card system. Democrats wanted to buy touch-screen voting machines made by Summit County manufacturer Diebold. Republicans wanted the ES&S optical scan system. Blackwell broke the tie vote in December.

Republican board member Alex Arshinkoff said Wednesday he was not familiar enough with the problems to offer comment.
Lisa A. Abraham can be reached at 330-996-3737 or labraham@thebeaconjournal.com

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