Chesapeake's electronic poll books were voting-delay villains (VA)
The Virginian-Pilot. November 6, 2008. By Mike Saewitz
City officials said Wednesday they will investigate problems with electronic poll books that helped cause lines as long as 1,000 people on Election Day.
"Anything that could go wrong did go wrong with the poll books," said Al Spradlin, chairman of the city's electoral board. "I'm disappointed. You don't want anything in your voting system that makes you look deficient. These problems did not make our system look good."
Electronic poll-book problems affected 12 of the city's 53 precincts Tuesday, officials said. Some machines would turn on and then just turn off. Poll workers also had problems hooking them up.
Technicians were able to solve problems early on, but backups, particularly at the Dr. Clarence V. Cuffee Community Center, attracted national attention.
Over 90,000 voter calls went to a national Election Protection Coalition hot line, and of the situations, the one in Chesapeake "was one of the worst" nationwide, said Jon Greenbaum of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which administered the hot line.
Greenbaum said he got affidavits from voters who said they waited six and seven hours to vote in Chesapeake. Before this year, the city had not relied on electronic poll-books as the primary way of looking up voter information.
"That's not good to use a major election as sort of a guinea pig for the process, particularly with technology," said Greenbaum, director of the Voting Rights Project for the Lawyers' Committee.
Chesapeake's problems came from more than 100 electronic poll-book machines provided by Premier Election Solutions, a company that has 15,000 of th e machines operating across the country. Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Arlington all have them, said company spokesman Chris Riggall, who hadn't heard about similar problems from other localities.
When problems occur, "the cure for that is to reboot it," he said. On Tuesday, rebooting even one machine slowed down voting, Spradlin said.
The city started testing the poll-books around 2006, but depended on paper ones to look up voters, city voting officials said. This year was the first time workers relied on the machines. Paper poll books were supposed to be used as backups.
In previous elections, Chesapeake poll workers had noticed only minor "hiccups" in some of the machines, Spradlin said. "The crashing yesterday was not something we experienced to any extent in the past," he said.
Even though poll workers went through classes on how to use the machines, some may have had problems hooking them up as the polls opened, Spradlin said.
Poll worker training is critical when the machines are being set up, said Riggall of Premier. The company will do a "postmortem exercise" with Chesapeake about problems.
Mike Saewitz, (757) 222-5207, firstname.lastname@example.org