Glitches overcome in primary

Voter describes new device as `too high-tech'

September 17, 2006|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

The day before the Harford County primary, one polling place had no electricity, the standby pool of election judges had dwindled from 50 to three, and officials were about to implement a new voting system.

By 7 a.m. Tuesday, power was restored at Abingdon Elementary School and the nearly 700 judges had reported to the precincts. About 32 percent of Harford's nearly 117,000 registered voters cast ballots. A few of those 37,974 people encountered difficulties with the electronic polling books.

Nellie Lisanti, 82, the mother of a Democratic candidate for County Council, went to her Havre de Grace polling place, gave her name and approached the voting machine.

"They told me I had already voted," she said. "The board of elections told them what to do, but they still couldn't fix it. I had to use a provisional ballot."

She plans to be at the elections office tomorrow, when the staff counts 672 provisional ballots.

"I have always voted, and I want to make sure this time that my vote counts," she said. "I feel deprived and discouraged. I think it's all too high-tech."

The board allows eight reasons for casting a provisional ballots. Only 26 of the nearly 700 cast in Harford last week were due to problems with the voting machines.

"The majority are because people did not update their addresses," said Kim Atkins, Harford's interim director of elections.

It may not have been a widespread problem, but it affected two other members of the Lisanti family.

"The supervisor of elections was incredibly responsive and dealt with problems immediately and decisively," said Mary Ann Lisanti, who won the Democratic nomination for District F council seat.

This year, Maryland went statewide for the first time with an all-electronic voting system, using computers to check in voters and touch-screen machines to log their votes. As workers were using the poll books to load a ballot on a voter's wallet-size access card, the machine would encode the card and occasionally reboot automatically. Because the card was encoded, the computer would tell officials that the voter had cast a ballot.

Workers offered a provisional ballot to replace the electronic one.

"There was nothing that turned any voters away," said Atkins. "Our election judges were able to resolve all the issues. They followed our golden rule of never, ever turning away a voter."

The intermittent glitches did not interfere with the process, Atkins said.

"Collectively, we learned a lot of lessons that will help us in the general election," she said.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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