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Touch-screen voting will be reviewed
By Stephen Deere
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
11/09/2006

Now that the votes have been tallied, St. Louis County election officials and voter rights advocates will begin counting the number of problems voters had casting them.

High on the list of priorities: the county's touch-screen voting machines, which had their first major test on Tuesday.

John Diehl, chairman of the county's Election Board, said most problems with the machines were confined to 20 or fewer of the county's 450 polling sites.

Diehl, a Republican, admitted that lines were long in some places, but said it was mostly due to heavy voter turnout and a lengthy ballot.


As for the new equipment, he said the problems with the touch-screen machines happened when paper rolls jammed after poll workers had replaced them. The machines are equipped to print voters' choices on paper as the picks are made.

He said the turnout for the August primary, when the county introduced the touch screens, was so low comparatively that few polling places required paper-roll replacements.

"We had to change them three and four times, and we could see by two in the afternoon that calls multiplied about paper jams," he said. "That accounted for 90 percent of the issues we had to deal with."

But one voting rights advocate argued that problems were more widespread and were the result of poorly trained election judges and a lack of specialists to monitor the touch-screen machines.

"There wasn't enough (specialists) to meet the need," said Denise Lieberman, an attorney with the voter advocacy group Advancement Project and former legal director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri. "The election judges simply didn't have the skills."

Diehl said the county had trained 200 poll workers to boot up and shut down the machines, as well as 25 specialists assigned to locations throughout the county and 28 pairs of roving specialists to respond to problems.

Both Diehl and Lieberman said they had yet to compile comprehensive lists of the problems and their locations.

The midterm election marked sort of a role reversal for the county where reports of voting problems have typically been uncommon and the city of St. Louis, where elections have been marred by lawsuits and an inquiry from the U.S. Justice Department.

On Tuesday, the county also had some malfunctions with paper ballots.

Diehl said the long (19-inch) ballots stressed some optical scanners that read them.

In some cases, people feeding the ballots into the scanners tried forcing them and got error messages in response.

"That's just a training issue that we are going to have to go over with some of our poll judges," he said.

Lieberman said some people reported that when the scanners broke down, judges began stacking ballots in the open.

Diehl said he didn't know if the report was true, but said many of the Advancement Project's complaints during the day only added to the difficulties.



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