Machine malfunctions discussed
By: Eric Poole, Calkins Media
email this storyEmail to a friendprinter friendlyPrinter-friendly
ELLWOOD CITY - About one in nine voting machines in Lawrence County failed to function when operators tried to start them Tuesday morning for the election, according to the county's director of voter registration and elections.
Marlene Gabriel said between 30 and 35 machines could not be started at the beginning of Election Day. The county distributed 275 voting machines, manufactured by Nebraska-based Election Systems & Software, in 106 voting districts.
Only two of the machines were down all day, Gabriel said. Unfortunately, one of those was at the polling site at SNPJ, which received only that device. About a dozen registered voters in the borough had to use paper ballots.
Some of the devices didn't start because of human error. One of those was at First United Methodist Church in Ellwood City, where a poll worker hooked up a machine to the wrong printer in the morning to create the morning printout - called a "zero printout" because it ensures no votes are already stored in the system.
Gabriel said another machine didn't work because it wasn't plugged correctly into a wall outlet.
But most of the nonfunctioning machines failed because pre-election testing might not have been performed on those devices, Gabriel said. That procedure, called a clearing test, was the responsibility of William Penn Printing Co., a regional contractor for ES&S.
"Apparently, they must have been overlooked," Gabriel said.
During the primary last spring - Lawrence County's first election with touch-screen machines - the vote was nearly trouble-free, which Gabriel said magnified the scattered problems this time.
County commissioners, who also serve as the election board, said Thursday they will address the testing issue.
"We, as an election board, will have a meeting with those who did not do what they were supposed to do," Commissioner Dan Vogler said.
One nonmechanical difficulty occurred in Perry Township's 2nd District, which voted in the township municipal building. The site received machines that had stickers reading "Mahoning Township" on them.
Commissioner Ed Fosnaught said the poll workers decided not to open the machines out of concern the devices were supposed to have been delivered to Mahoning Township.
In fact, the machines are interchangeable. PEB terminals, hand-held devices that are plugged into the machines prior to each voter, actually contain the ballot information for each voting district.
On Election Day, commissioners incorrectly said Perry Township received the wrong PEBs as well. Actually, poll workers received the right devices, but the polls remained closed for more than a half-hour, and about 35 residents voted with paper ballots.
Fosnaught said the Perry Township poll workers exercised good judgment. "People at Perry Township made good decisions in not just assuming that everything was all right," he said.
Gabriel agreed and said Thursday's election went relatively smoothly, albeit not as well as the primary.
By 10 a.m., she said all of the voting districts except SNPJ had at least one working machine, with polling sites in Wampum and Chewton among the last to get started.
Lawrence County President Judge Dominick Motto denied a petition to extend voting by one hour because the additional time would have created confusion that would have outweighed any benefit from the extension, according to Gabriel.
Lawrence County issued nearly 90 percent of its returns before 10 p.m., running well ahead of Butler, Mercer and Beaver counties, all surrounding counties that use the same ES&S iVotronic machine as Lawrence.
"All in all, it went pretty well," Gabriel said. "Once the machines got going in the morning, we didn't have any problems."
Eric Poole can be reached online at firstname.lastname@example.org.