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Voting system will get faster, officials say
Thursday, August 5, 2004

Tuesday's primary-election process may have been slow in yielding final results, but nobody was denied the right to vote because of it, Kalamazoo County's chief election official said.

County Clerk Timothy Snow said some precincts had a few problems tabulating votes, while others struggled with new election procedures. As a result, candidates waited for results until 2 a.m. Wednesday.

That wasn't supposed to be the case with the county's switch to a new optical-scan voting system. County officials were hoping for results within two hours after the polls closed. 

"It was not consistent in every precinct," said Snow, who spent Wednesday sorting through paperwork and working with local canvassers to certify unofficial election results.

Canvassers have until Aug. 17 to certify election results.

"We will make it better next time," Snow said about the tabulation process.

Snow plans to meet with municipal clerks from throughout the county in two weeks to talk about ways to improve voting and the tabulation process for the November election.

"The big thing we are going to work on is training," said Kalamazoo City Clerk Stephen French. "The machines worked perfectly."

The optical-scan voting system replaced the old punch-card system that became infamous around the nation because of failures in Florida during the 2000 presidential election.

The new system, paid for with federal dollars, was supposed to eliminate spoiled ballots by identifying voter error when ballots are fed into a computer.

But local municipal clerks say the system was so new that election workers spent much of their time making sure procedures were correctly followed and that final results were accurate.

"It wasn't because of the equipment," Kalamazoo Township Clerk Donald Thall said. "It was because we were doing things differently."

"I think it was the newness, and everybody was trying to make sure they did it right because we had not done it before," Thall said. "It slowed things down."

Thall said election workers in the township had trouble with ballots jamming, a problem other municipal clerks also reported. The jamming might have slowed voting briefly during the day, but it didn't affect the final tabulation of election results, he said.

Portage Clerk James Hudson said another concern for election workers was making sure that they properly filled out paperwork for provisional ballots, which can be issued if a voter's name doesn't appear on a voter-registration list and the voter's identity needs to be verified.

There are new federal rules for provisional ballots, which slowed workers down, Hudson said.

Comstock Township Clerk Anna Scott Goodsell said her township was late in bringing election results to county officials Tuesday night because election workers forgot to write the names of six absentee voters in a poll book in one of the township's precincts.

When all ballots were finally tabulated, there was a discrepancy between the number of people who voted and the number in the poll book.

That error wasn't discovered until late Tuesday night. Comstock Township's computerized election data didn't reach Snow's office until 1 a.m. Wednesday.

"It had nothing to do with the optical-scan equipment at all," Goodsell said. "Stuff happened with the punch cards too, but people didn't watch us as closely."

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