Election problems force changes ES&S management changes
Thursday, May 25, 2006
By Rob Moritz
Arkansas News Bureau
LITTLE ROCK - Voting machine problems slowed results from Tuesday's primary elections in some counties and threatened to delay early voting for upcoming runoffs, Secretary of State Charlie Daniels said Wednesday.
Daniels said the Nebraska company that received a $15 million contract to install new electronic voting machines in Arkansas had agreed to bring in a new management team to oversee the project in the wake of electronic voting machine problems in Lonoke County and programming and software problems in Pulaski and Phillips counties.
Election officials in the three counties worked late into the evening Wednesday to correct problems and recount ballots. Isolated problems were reported around the state.
"It's a great disappointment," Daniels said.
He said many of the problems could have been avoided if the Election Systems and Software Co. had been better prepared. ES&S technicians also will remain in the state through the Nov. 7 general election.
"We had a conference call with the president of ES&S and there is to be some immediate changes with the project manager and team leader," Daniels said.
The goal, Daniels said, is to prepare for the June 13 runoffs. Every voting for the runoffs is to begin Tuesday but could be delayed if all primary votes are not all counted and certified by the end of the week.
ES&S released a statement late Wednesday saying, "We sincerely regret the delay and are working to get the last remaining votes counted and results reported as quickly as possible."
Daniels said that in Pulaski and Phillips counties, the problems involved old optical scanners that were not programmed adequately to count paper ballots in the election.
Kent Walker, a Pulaski County election commissioner, said Wednesday that election officials were manually recounting the ballots from 10 polling locations because of programming problems.
Election officials in Phillips County waited for the contractor to reprogram voting equipment so ballots could be recounted Wednesday evening.
Problems with some of the new electronic machines in Lonoke County forced some reprogramming and recounting, Daniels said. Ballots in that county also were being re-tabulated Wednesday evening.
Around the state, other counties reported problems with the new electronic machines or new programming.
In Benton County, election workers ran out of paper for the electronic machines, as well as some paper ballots, and had to send voters away, Daniels said. Voters were later called back once machine paper and additional paper ballots were obtained.
In Washington County, officials were delayed in getting results when some election workers were unable to close out some of the new machines at the end of the day Tuesday, Washington County Clerk Karen Pritchard said.
In Lawrence County, officials realized they had given voters ball-point pens to complete ballots instead of the required felt-tipped markers. All of the ballots had to be overwritten with the markers so the machine could read them.
Cleburne County election officials were delayed in counting ballots after they discovered their machines had been improperly programmed.
The Jefferson County Election Commission voted prior to the primary to use lever voting machines. Taylor Eubanks, the county election coordinator, said the decision was made because the 136 electronic machines were missing some software. He said there were no problems reported Tuesday.
Eubanks said he expects the county be use electronic machines in the general election.
Madison County Clerk Faron Ledbetter, who is president of the Arkansas County Clerk's Association, said he talked to several county clerks Wednesday and they all reported minor problems and some delays in getting votes tabulated. For the most part, the clerks said things went well, he said.
Problems in Pulaski County included a tie in the House District 41 race, where Maumelle Republicans Ed Garner and Doug Ladner both garnered 613 votes.
A state GOP official blamed the secretary of state, Arkansas' chief election official.
"Due to Charlie Daniels' ineffectiveness and lack of preparation, we are now waiting on his crew to re-program the voting machines to get either different or better results," GOP Executive Director Clint Reed said.
"The voters of this state deserve to have their votes counted accurately (and) state and county election officials and the candidates across this state deserve better," Reed said. "Charlie Daniels' cronies have truly provided a disservice to all of those involved."
Daniels is seeking re-election in November against Republican Jim Lagrone of Bryant, who has criticized the secretary of state's handling of the federally mandated upgrade of the state's voting system.
"I never expected the head of that party or my opponent to say anything nice about me," Daniels said.
But he said he was frustrated with ES&S' work.
The company was awarded a $15 million contract in November to deliver electronic voting machines for state compliance to the Help America Vote Act of 2002. The state ordered more than 4,000 pieces of new equipment and software to comply with the federal law.
Days before early voting began May 8, Daniels announced that because of problems with the recently purchased electronic voting machines, all counties, expect for the eight in the 2nd Congressional District, were being urged to use paper ballots for the 15-day early voting period.
At the time, he said he hoped problems with the equipment would be corrected and the equipment ready by Tuesday's primary.