Monday, April 10, 2006

Indiana: Counties Still Dealing With Ballot Problems!

IndyStar.com
April 7, 2006
By Vic Ryckaert; vic.ryckaert@indystar.com

Marion County Clerk Doris Anne Sadler blasted a voting machine company this morning saying it supplied error-filled ballots for next month's primary election.

Meanwhile, clerks in Johnson and Hancock counties, also are upset with the company because it did not deliver absentee ballots in time and failed to program touch screen voting machines.

Marion County's problem, Sadler said, is Nebraska-based Election Systems & Software did not print instructions on ballots for the non-partisan school board elections in Decatur and Washington townships. The error was caught Tuesday, the day after absentee voting began, and Sadler said it means two people are going to have to vote again.

"This particular problem seems now to be fixed and we got away with it only affecting two people," Sadler said during an emergency meeting of the Election Board this morning. "But given the history of the last two weeks, I'm afraid of what will crop up again."

The company supplies the county's optical scan and touch-screen voting machines. The county's elections are complicated, Sadler said. Ballots in the 914 precincts have more than 2,000 variations, depending on where a voter lives and what political party they claim.

Two weeks ago, ES&S delivered its first batch of ballots for this election and Sadler said they were rife with mistakes. County officials found new errors in the replacement ballots and sent those back too. They received the latest batch late last week, Sadler said, and spent the weekend proofreading.

"They don't proof anything before they send it to us," Sadler said. "I would love to fire them. I've had three years of serious issues with this company."

Sadler said she couldn't fire ES&S because there aren't many other options. Few voting machine companies are certified by the federal government, and Sadler said the others have similar problems.

Johnson County received its absentee ballots on Thursday, two weeks after the ballots were supposed to have been mailed to voters who submitted absentee applications, according to Johnson County Clerk Jill Jackson. The ballots, per state statute, should have been mailed to the county by March 18.

ES&S also failed to program Johnson County's touch screen voting machines. Jackson said ES&S technicians are on site and expect a computer disk today to update the machines.

"I guess what bothered us the most is that it's like it's no big deal that they missed a statutory deadline," Jackson said of ES&S. "They're a big company and it's like they don't care, that they'll get (the ballots) to us when they get them done, and that's not acceptable. I'm extremely disappointed in the vendor."

In Marion County, problems first surfaced in 2003 when ES&S provided software that was not fully certified by the Indiana Election Commission. The company compounded the problem by loading uncertified software on the touch-screen machines. It replaced the uncertified software with files that were incompatible with the programs that count the votes.

In fall 2003, the clerk's office had to hand-count more than 9,000 absentee ballots for the City-County Council election because ES&S had not obtained certification for software on a central counting machine.

Last August, the company settled a lawsuit over the problems and agreed to pay Marion County $1.2 million.

Star reporter Jason Thomas contributed to this story.
Call Star reporter Vic Ryckaert at (317) 444-2761.

Copyright 2006 IndyStar.com. All rights reserved

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