No major problems with new machines (NY)
The Buffalo News. November 3, 2009. By Mark Sommer, NEWS STAFF REPORTER
New electronic voting machines had some glitches in the first several hours of today's election, but nothing out of the ordinary, Erie County election commissioners said.
As Buffalo voters cast ballots the old-fashioned way — pulling levers behind a closed curtain — voters elsewhere in Erie County filled out paper ballots that were then electronically scanned. It was the first time the machines were used in a general election.
"I think they're working pretty good. There are little things here and there we have to address, but that happens in every election no matter what kind of machines you have," said Dennis E. Ward, the Democratic commissioner for the county Board of Elections.
Ralph Mohr, the Republican commissioner, agreed.
"So far we've been pleased with it," he said. "Many of the voters enjoy the fact they are not pressured by having a time constraint within the voting machine."
Ward said the largest number of calls that came in to election headquarters from poll workers were due to one of two plugs not being connected. There were also a number of calls for what Ward believed to be a higher number of poll workers than usual — four are expected in each election district — who fell ill.
The most common problem with machines in operation had to do with ballots getting jammed in the optical scanning machine, he said.
If scanning was not possible, Ward said, the ballots were put into a folder and slid into a box on the machine for such a purpose, in accordance with emergency ballot provisions.
If poll workers were unable to correct problems themselves, or someone from the office couldn't walk them through it, technicians were dispatched, Ward said.
Mohr said three machines that had jammed were replaced as a precautionary measure to make sure they would be functioning at peak hours. Two of the machines were in West Seneca, and the third was in Lancaster, he said.
"The nice thing about these machines is that they weigh 120 pounds, versus 700 pounds that the [machines with levers] weigh," Ward said.
Jeff Barton, who voted at St. Barnabus Church in Depew, said he liked the new machines.
"I just thought it was easier, and a little more relaxed because I could sit down and actually read the amendments. In the booth, I always feel rushed, like people are waiting," Barton said.
Tom Jaworowicz, who cast his ballot at the Cheektowaga Senior Citizens Center, said he was glad to see a "little more modern technology," expressing a hope that it would present fewer problems in the future.
But Richard Calabrese of West Seneca, who was told the electronic machine was temporarily out of order when he cast his ballot, preferred the lever machines for several reasons, including the privacy the closed curtains provided.
He also complained that the oval circles on paper ballots needed to be larger for senior citizens.
The new voting procedure is part of the Federal Election Commission's Help America Vote Act of 2000, which mandated states to upgrade voting systems following President George W. Bush's contested victory in the presidential race.
A federal judge ordered New York State to begin instituting a new voting system after ruling the state had been too slow to implement changes.
After the primary, Erie County conducted a hand count of some ballots that confirmed the accuracy of the scanning, Ward said.
He said the public should feel reassured about the integrity of the scanning machines. The paper ballots are collected, leaving a paper trail. There are no electronic connections between one machine and another, and at the beginning of the voting day, inspectors booting up the machine print out a tape showing every candidate with zero votes that is preserved.
Ward said there is a random auditing requirement of 3 percent of the cast ballots, and he expects more than that will be done after Election Day.
An official with the Federal Election Assistance Commission and a commissioner of the state Board of Elections were in the county to do their own monitoring. That included talking to inspectors to get their views on the machines, and to see what suggestions they may have.