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Lenoir City has ballot glitch

At least dozen unable to cast ballot on two key issues

By ANN HINCH Knowville News Sentinel
October 14, 2004

Chris Barbour knew there was a problem with voting machines at the Roane State Community College Annex on Wednesday - a hand-lettered sign posted there stated as much - but the Lenoir City resident figured he wouldn't be put into a booth unless the problem had been fixed.

"In hindsight, I probably should've asked, but I thought they knew what they were doing," he said later that day.  
Barbour was one of more than a dozen Lenoir City voters whose ballots didn't include the option to vote for two Loudon County school board members and on proposed amendments to the city charter - both of which should have been available to District 2 voters.

He said the machine allowed him to vote in the federal and state elections, but he was "locked out" of voting on these two local issues.

Election Commissioner David Martin said according to state law, Barbour and the other 13 District 2 voters who cast votes with the glitch cannot re-vote, either by machine or paper. As to Barbour's situation, Martin wondered why he didn't speak up when being ushered into the machine booth.

"I understand (Barbour's) frustration," Administrator of Elections Dana Zehner agreed, "and I understand how he could have gone along, kind of like a sheep to slaughter, but I don't understand why he didn't speak up and ask for a paper ballot."

Early voting in Loudon County opened at 8 a.m. in two locations: the Roane State Annex and the Loudon County Election Commission office. About 10:30 a.m., according to Zehner, a District 2 voter alerted election judges in Loudon that one of their machines was not letting him make ions for the school board and charter amendments.

Within three minutes, Zehner heard from the annex that a voter there had alerted those election judges to the same problem. By then, she said more than 120 people had voted at both locations and of those, 13 were in District 2, the only district affected by the machine glitch.

The problem was Lexington, Ky., software programmer Harp Enterprises had "locked out" the wrong parts of the ballot to District 2 voters.

One ballot face is used for all of Loudon County, but not everyone can vote for the same state representative (Loudon County has two) or the same municipal proposals. There are 10 separate lockouts to allow people in different parts of the county to use parts of the same ballot face, Zehner said.

The lockout unique to District 2 was mistakenly programmed to allow voting for either school board candidates or the charter amendments, when it should have allowed for both.

Harp Director of Election Programming Mike Sparks said he shipped corrected software Wednesday via Federal Express and it should only take a few minutes for the election commission technician to install upon arrival Thursday morning (today).

He admitted a miscommunication between Harp and Loudon County, but that Harp could not take full responsibility for the error. He said the lockout instructions the election commission provided were incorrect; in addition, the election commission's technician had the software since last week and was to test it before Wednesday.

"When we're building a database, we're only as good as the information we receive," Sparks explained.

Martin said the county's paperwork proves it provided correct instructions to Harp. He added the county's technician did test the software Tuesday and it ran smoothly - "Unfortunately, this got by the test," he said of the glitch.

The decision was made, said Martin, to inform voters of the problem and either encourage them to come back later or vote Wednesday using a paper ballot.

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