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Ballots jam county voting system
By Jesse Hirsch

Capital Newspapers Portage Daily Register  08 September 2004

Columbia County Clerk Jeanne Miller said ballots in next week's primary election may be counted by hand if kinks aren't worked out of the county's voting machines by today.

At Tuesday's meeting of the county executive committee, Miller said that while she remains optimistic, the two machines have shown a host of problems in weeks past.

They were "a little touchy" in April's elections, forcing the county to purchase new parts, Miller said. Since then, problems have compounded. Ballots have come out with roller marks, write-in votes are not being read and ballots have jammed, among other issues.

The county spends about $5,000 a year for voting machine maintenance. Miller has been in constant contact with a technician in Texas, telling him the problems and trying different solutions. If things "get desperate," she may request that he travel to Portage to look at the machines.

Miller said many problems may be software-related, rather than with the machines themselves. In that case, the maintenance company may not be able to help.

The machines were purchased in 1990 at a cost of $55,000 each. Miller said they have been well cared for, resulting in few problems until now.

At the meeting, executive committee members were favorable to the idea of purchasing new machines after November's elections. Miller said "no-frill" voting machines would cost about $45,000 each.

Another option is for municipalities to purchase small machines for around $5,000 so ballots could be counted at election sites.

Currently, after polls close, clerks bring ballots to Portage for tallying. The executive committee favors this "central count," but Miller said some municipalities, including Portage, may want their own machines.

"These clerks have pretty long days at elections," she said. "It can be a real hassle to have to pack up all the ballots at the end of the day and bring them here."

For the primary election, the old voting machines are all the county has. Otherwise, there may be a temporary return to the old-fashioned hand counting method.

Miller checked with corporation counsel Joe Ruf and found this would be a viable option. She called it a worst-case scenario, however.

"I'm afraid all the municipal clerks are going to panic about this," she said. "Right now I'm still optimistic."

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