Voting machine complaints continue (WV)
Paul J. Nyden Charleston Gazette-Mail 27 October 2008
A few voters from different counties continue to experience problems with electronic machines during early voting.
Eleven early voters from three counties - Jackson, Putnam and Berkeley - previously reported having problems with voting machines to the Charleston Gazette. At least five more voters in three other counties - Ohio, Monongalia and Greenbrier - recently reported similar problems.
A Wheeling Intelligencer editorial noted, "A few people who have cast ballots last week at the Ohio County early voting station in the City-County Building have reported difficulties.
"When they tried to specific candidates on the touch-screen machine, votes instead were reported for their choices' opponents."
The Ohio County newspaper's Wednesday editorial added, "Voting machines taken to every polling place in every county should be recalibrated after they are moved - then tested to ensure they are functioning properly."
The Morgantown Dominion Post reported Melissa Turner, an early voter in Morgantown, was trying to vote for Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, when the machine switched her vote.
Monongalia County Clerk Carye L. Blaney told The Charleston Gazette, "I don't think it is serious. I don't think it is a problem with the machine.
"Everyone touches the machine differently. The machine, by design, is sensitive. If you touch it with a finger, you may put pressure above the line where the candidate is, or below.
"But the machines clearly show you who you voted for. It puts a large green check mark next to the candidate.
"Melissa Turner was trying to press the machine with her thumb. We have purchased a stylus-pointed device that has a narrow tip that you can use to make your ion.
"Some counties use the eraser end of a pencil. They are both narrow, easier to touch and easier for the screen [on voting machines] to identify," Blaney said on Thursday.
S.E. Dalton, an early voter in Greenbrier County, stated, "I too had my presidential vote changed from Obama to McCain when I cast my vote in Greenbrier County. As soon as it happened, I stated to the attendant, 'I didn't vote for him.' She handed me a pencil and instructed me to use the eraser to touch the screen as, 'It is very sensitive.'"
In an e-mail, Dalton wrote he uses a wide variety of computer technology and programs every day.
"I can tell you that in no way was the unauthorized vote change a result of user error," Dalton wrote. "Voters must use great caution when casting their votes if the election results are to truly reflect the decisions of the voters of West Virginia."
West Virginia's electronic voting machines are all made by Election Systems & Software, or ES&S, based in Omaha, Neb.
Wood County Clerk Jamie Six believes problems are caused when county officials do not calibrate and align voting machines properly.
Most voters who complained said their votes switched from Obama to McCain. No one complained that their votes switched the opposite way.
"By law, the party of the president who carried the previous election in the state gets top billing on the screen. It [voting switches] is not a conspiracy. It may have to do with the size [and calibration] of the voting screen," Six said on Friday.
Six encourages voters to be careful filling out their ballots on electronic machines.
"On the optical scan machines, if you darken an oval [next to your choice], it works fine. If you use a check-mark, your check mark might not be in the circle for your candidate," Six said.
Juan E. Gilbert, a professor at Auburn University's Center for Governmental Services, also says the ways voting screens are set up cause problems.
"Some voters touching screens roll their fingers down the screen, trying to touch the names of the people they want. It is human nature."
People voting for Obama who do that, Gilbert said, may actually touch the area for McCain.
"But you cannot have John McCain losing votes to Barack Obama. If you touch McCain's name at the top of the screen, it will not switch to Barack Obama."
Gilbert said he has helped design machines where "we actually put the [candidate's] name in the middle, in the center of the [voting] button. That way, you cannot accidentally touch the other person.
"This problem will keep occurring. Some voters notice. But a lot don't pay attention and might not notice.
"There is nothing inherently wrong with the ES&S machines. It is a ballot design issue," Gilbert said. "All they need to do is make the ion area around the [candidate's] name. You should only make the name active, not the entire area near a name."
Blaney mentioned physical differences among voters.
"If you have longer fingernails, or fatter fingers, you may not touch the screen like someone else.
"There are safeguards in the system. Here, in Monongalia County, we have a seven-page ballot and a three-page review screen where the machine tells you what people you voted for.
"Voters can review their votes before a third screen comes up and says, 'Is this the vote you want to make?' Then, you have to hit the word 'confirm'," she said.