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Scattered voting machine snags reported
Des Moines Register JENNIFER JACOBS, STAFF WRITER  November 7, 2006

Voters are reporting minor troubles at polling places around Iowa, but poll workers are quickly fixing the problems as they crop up, spot checks show.

The problems were surfacing along with reports of a heavier than expected turnout of voters.

The ballot reading machines in Butler County were misreading ballots marked for a straight ticket vote, such as a vote for exclusively Republican candidates, election officials said.

However, all the votes were being tabulated correctly, said Casey Sinnwell, a spokesman for the state Secretary of State’s office.

Butler County precinct officials were advising voters there to mark candidates in each category rather than mark the single oval for a straight-party vote, he said.

The problem was due to an in-house programming error on the optical scan machines, Sinwell said. Although most counties outsource their programming needs to an outside vendor, Butler County officials programmed their machines themselves, and triggered a feature that registered unmarked categories as “under votes” on the computer screen, Sinwell said.

“Internally, it’s reading correctly, it’s just a feature they activated that they shouldn’t have activated,” he said.

In Fayette County, precinct workers encountered a minor problem that has popped up regularly since the county began using its electronic ES&S iVotronic machines in 1996, said auditor Larry Popenhagen. Precinct workers have to a cartridge that brings up a ballot for each voter, but if they it too quickly, the screen will freeze, Popenhagen said.

“That’s just a common problem,” he said. “They just have to be careful to do it when they’re supposed to.”

In Pocahontas County, three touch-screen voting machines were not working but voting continues there because each precinct in that county also has paper ballots counted by a separate machine, election officials said.

“Everybody is up and voting with the paper ballots,” said Margene Bunda, the election commissioner for Pocahontas County.

Not all the touch-screen machines in the county are having a problem, she said. “It’s just few. Three or four.”

No one is voting on the touch-screen machines until the malfunctioning printers are fixed in Laurens, Plover and Palmer precincts, Bunda said.

Each of the malfunctioning machines was experiencing a printer problem. The printer is necessary to get a “zeroes tape” before the polls open to ensure that each machine is starting fresh and that no ballots have been cast on it that morning.

The problems with the printers included the wrong paper and a lid ajar, Bunda said. “Very minor stuff, nothing electronic, just little incidental things."

By 11:45 a.m., all the printers in Pocahontas County had been fixed and the touch-screen machines were running smoothly, Bunda said.

The touch-screen machines meet federal requirements to give people with disabilities access to voting. For now, the three precincts in Pocahontas County have no handicapped-accessible machines.

“It’s rare to have the disabled go to polls here,” Bunda said. Most vote absentee, she said.

The on-the-way-to-work crowd kept polling places in Scott County hopping between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m.

“It was probably as busy as 2002,” said Karen Fitzsimmons, the top election official in Scott County. “There have been some lines and people have had to be patient.”

Linn County was seeing much the same thing.

“We’re having a big turnout — a lot larger than I had anticipated,” saidLinda Langenberg, the election commissioner in Linn County.

Some precincts in the Cedar Rapids area had to shoo away a member of a legal team for one party or another.

“The legal teams apparently don’t read Iowa law,” said Linda Langenberg, the election commissioner in Linn County.

Another problem has been with party poll watchers “overstepping their boundaries,” she said. The poll watchers have been asking voters about their political party and otherwise trying to interact with voters, she said.

They’re role is limited: through the precinct official, they can challenge a voter they suspect is not qualified, and they can keep track the voter roster and tip off their party about who hasn’t voted yet.

At one polling place in West Des Moines, the scanning machine that voters feed their paper ballots into was not working. But by 9 a.m. election officials said all was well with the optical scanner at that precinct, at Western Hills Elementary School on 39th Street.

“It’s very normal course of business,” said Michael Mauro, Polk County's election commissioner.

“You’re going to have machines jam during the day. This is a normal occurrence that takes place every election. This is not something people need to be worried about.”

The experience was a little disconcerting for one early-bird voter, however, who said “there was no way to make sure your ballot was accepted before leaving.”

Election officials said the optical scan machine was working well after it was restarted.

Mauro said standard procedure is for voters to place their ballots into an emergency bin. Later, a team made up of one Democrat and one Republican are supposed to watch over the process of feeding the ballots into the scanner.

Elsewhere, some Polk County voters questioned why the paper receipt on the ballot readers didn’t spit out a report on whether their vote had been tallied.

Mauro said it’s not supposed to do that. The paper receipt is used only by election officials at the end of the night, he said.

A woman reported that her polling place, at the Windsor Heights police station, opened late this morning. The polls were not yet open at 7:10 a.m., and she had to leave to get to work on time — without casting her vote.

“They seemed very disorganized,” she said. “They were still putting up signs at 7 o’clock.”

A line of 30 people was waiting outside when she left.

Mauro said at 9 a.m. that he had received no complaints except about the problem with the machine at Precinct 213 in West Des Moines.

“It’s going as good as it could possibly be running," he said. "It’s a big county, a big operation."

Back in Pocahontas County, one voter did not have the typical response to his experience at the polling place in Havelock.

Jerry Depew, a farmer from Laurens, writes a blog about Iowa voting, and he turned to his blog to vent after witnessing a problem with a touch-screen voting machine.

Depew said he was the ninth voter in Havelock this moring.

“As I was being handed my ballot,” Depew wrote at his blog, at http://iowavoters.org, “poll worker Gary Zhorne said that the touch-screen voting machine was not working. ‘We turned it on but nothing happens,’ he said, or words to that effect.”

Depew also wrote the poll workers asked for his driver’s license, even though Iowa law states that a signature is all that’s required for “active voters.”

“All three of them know me personally,” he wrote. “I refused to show it. They tried to find their written instructions on the matter but gave up and let me vote.”

The law states that poll workers may require identification from anyone whose name does not appear on the election register as an active voter,


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