Across the nation, smattering of glitches

Voting problems

Maryland Votes 2006

November 09, 2006|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,Sun reporter

Although Maryland's election Tuesday concluded with isolated glitches, voters elsewhere encountered a smattering of machine failures, late-opening precincts and harried poll workers that could sustain calls for more paper-driven elections nationwide.

In troubles reminiscent of those Maryland suffered in the primary two months ago, precinct hours were extended in eight states after voters from Denver to Indianapolis were caught in snaking lines when electronic voter check-in systems crashed or inadequately trained volunteers proved unable to start the machines.

Unlike Maryland, some Ohio counties were unable to fix problems that surfaced in the primary. In Cuyahoga County, results from the May primary were delayed six days, and Tuesday, a judge ordered 16 precincts to remain open an additional 90 minutes after polls did not open on time.

"The indication is that inexperience can cause problems," said Dan Seligson, editor of the nonpartisan electionline.org. "The expectation is that with each election things will get better."

Election managers across the country faced a federal deadline this year to replace antiquated punch card and lever voting systems, which wreaked havoc in 2000 in Florida. Some of the upgrades were rushed - or not made at all - after the federal government did not allocate the money to help pay for the projects until 2004 and 2005.

"Local officials didn't have enough time to really pull off all of the changes going into play for this election," said Kimball Brace, director of the Washington-based Election Data Services, which helps states improve elections. "Plus you have all of the activists out there throwing bombs at the process. But today the sky's not falling on their side. What we had were hiccups."

Groups such as TrueVoteMD and computer scientists have raised concerns about the security of the state's electronic touch-screen voting equipment, arguing that someone with unfettered access to the machines could install malicious software that would switch votes without detection.

Election officials, however, have responded that a variety of security procedures make such claims conspiracy theories.

As for whether touch-screen voting machines could continue to be used without paper trails after this election, "I think the jury's still out," said Tova Wang, an election reform expert at the Century Foundation.

Voters, such as Armando A. Framarini of Havre de Grace, reported that the touch screens incorrectly recorded their votes as they touched one candidate's name and an "X" appeared for an opponent.

"I was shocked," Framarini wrote in an e-mail. "I called over an election official and corrected the votes."

Not all problems were related to the machines.

Some of the long lines at polling places were likely driven by a lengthy ballot, said Ross Goldstein, the state's deputy elections administrator.

Voters in Montgomery County, for instance, had to scroll through seven screens to make their choices and answer complicated constitutional questions.

In Prince George's County, some volunteers forgot to return the computer cards containing the election results, a problem that also surfaced in the primary. The county did not finish its tally until yesterday afternoon.

"With computers, you have to work the human factor into everything," said Robert Antonetti Sr., interim elections director in Prince George's.

Even with human errors, state and local election officials said they were proud to have shown that the problems during the primary were anomalies.

"Our professional pride in what we do was on the line," Goldstein said.

melissa.harris@baltsun.com

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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