Some East Bay voters might have used wrong ballots
CONTRA COSTA TIMES By Dogen Hannah, Karl Fischer and Chris Metinko 07 November 2006
Voting occurred largely without major trouble around the East Bay today, although some voters might have been given the wrong ballots by mistake.
In Contra Costa County, election workers were looking into preliminary reports that some voters in two precincts received ballots with incorrect information.
"It's perplexing," said Steve Weir, the county's registrar of voters.
Election workers reported that in the precincts, one in Antioch and the other in the San Ramon Valley, some voters received ballots that omitted races for that precinct but included races for other precincts.
The potentially affected races included Assembly, Superior Court, Contra Costa Community College District, San Ramon Valley Unified School District, East Bay Municipal Utility District, San Ramon Valley Fire District and Central Contra Costa Sanitation District.
Weir emphasized that election workers were still trying to confirm that voters had received the wrong ballots.
"It's serious, if it's happened," Weir said. "It's still possible that there's not a problem."
Also troubling was the possibility that machines used to optically scan ballots and record votes might not have alerted election workers to the incorrect ballots, Weir said. The machines should reject ballots intended for other precincts, he said.
Both Alameda and Contra Costa counties reported problems with optical scanners that read paper ballots to record votes.
Alameda County purchased its voting system, manufactured by Oakland-based Sequoia, to replace its outdated Diebold machines.
Guy Ashley, spokesman for Alameda County Registrar of Voters office, said by Tuesday afternoon nearly 100 of the more than 800 scanners at polling sites had jammed. The registrar's office was sending out replacement heads for some of the scanners to the affected polling sites.
"The new equipment is proving to be a challenge," Ashley said. "There are small detail some people are forgetting. But you have to remember this is a new system. Even our seasoned poll workers are starting from scratch."
Ashley said since voters do not have to wait for their ballots to be read by the scanners, the scanner problems were not impacting people waiting to vote.
David Alderman, 28 of Oakland, said he experienced no problems voting at the main branch of the Oakland Public Library near Lake Merritt this morning, although he did question the new paper ballot in Alameda County. Instead of the old, standby fill-in-the-oval ballots most counties use, the Sequoia paper ballot features a complete-the-arrow marking to cast a vote.
Election officials had been concerned about the ballot, but early voters seemed to have few problems with the new ballot.
"The ballot is kind of different," Alderman said. "It's kind of primitive."
David Howard, who was voting on Central Avenue in Alameda, agreed the ballot could use some work.
"The arrows are annoying to fill out," said Howard, who added he liked the old Diebold machines and electronic voting.
"The other way was much faster," Howard said.
In Contra Costa County, eight or nine electronic scanning machines at various polling locations had been malfunctioning, and election workers were fixing or replacing them, said Weir.
"We're moving with replacements," Weir said.
The county has used the system, manufactured by Election Systems and Services, in four previous elections and distributed 472 machines to polling locations for today's election.
One of the balky machines appeared to be at a polling location on Clinton Avenue in Richmond. Ted Hudacko said the machine would not accept his ballot when he voted at about 9 a.m.
"The voting machine in my polling place was not working, and the volunteers could not answer questions about when the machine would be functioning again," Hudacko said.
Poll workers were collecting ballots and giving voters ballot stubs, but there was no way for voters to verify that their votes were counted, Hudacko said.
"They're basically putting our ballots in a big box," Hudacko said.
Voters such as Hudacko should be confident that their votes will be counted, Weir said.
If a machine malfunctions, election workers are to ballots into a locked bin within the machine's housing, Weir said. Workers will scan the ballots later today, when the machine is fixed or replaced, or the ballots will be scanned at the registrar's office, he said.
Some malfunctions appeared to stem from the machines' difficulty handling the county's 19-inch-long ballots, Weir said.
The machine is designed to segregate ballots containing the names of write-in candidates, so that election workers can read those ballots and record write-in votes. A mechanical arm that separates those ballots from the rest seemed to be jamming, Weir said.
Other malfunctions appeared to stem from internal electrical failures that knocked out machines' visual displays, Weir said.