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Clyburn frets; E-voting instructions unclear, he's concerned about Nov. 2

By LEE HENDREN, T&D Staff Writer    16 October 2004

U.S. Rep. James E. Clyburn readily accepted an offer to try one of South Carolina's new electronic touch screen voting machines Saturday at Claflin University in Orangeburg.

Selected counties, including Calhoun, will use the new technology in the Nov. 2 general election. All South Carolina counties eventually must switch to the new machines.

"I've been very interested in this because I think it's very, very important for us to get people used to these things because, you know, people are intimidated by technology," Clyburn said.

With the demonstrator walking him through the steps, the congressman completed a practice ballot, to his satisfaction, in just a few moments.

But because voters won't have personal guidance during the actual election, Clyburn decided to try it a second time, using only the instruction brochure provided by the South Carolina Election Commission.

(Its title is 1-2-3 Vote: How to Use South Carolina's Electronic Touch Screen Voting System.)

Step 1: "Activate ballot: A poll worker will activate your ballot by ing a Personal Electronic Ballot device into the appropriate slot."

To preserve the secrecy of the ballot, the poll worker must then leave the voting booth, leaving the voter to figure out the rest of the procedure alone.

Step 2: "Select your candidates: To your candidates, touch the box next to the candidates' names ...."

Whoops! There is no box to touch. There are no names displayed.

"It says, 'Select your candidates'. From where?" Clyburn asked, pointing to the largely blank screen.

It turns out that all the voter has to do is touch the screen to activate it and display the ballot. It's a simple step — but it's missing from the instructions.

The omission is critical, Clyburn said. Not knowing how to activate the screen could be the last straw for a frustrated voter who is already struggling with a lack of self-confidence in using the new technology.

"That's a prime example why we're having this meeting," Clyburn said, pointing toward a group of political activists from across South Carolina who had gathered at Claflin.

An Atlanta-based non-partisan organization called Count Every Vote 2004 issued a "media advisory" Friday identifying itself and the South Carolina Voter Education Project as the organizers of the event that it described as "volunteer training for poll monitors" in the presidential election.

However, the agenda described the event as a "get out the vote" program. It listed Clyburn as the host.

It listed remarks by Claflin President Dr. Henry Tisdale, Clyburn, state Sens. John Matthews and Kay Patterson and state Rep. Jerry Govan, and sessions on Critical Campaign Laws and The Critical Role of Churches and Community-Based Organizations.

Clyburn's aide, Isaac "Ike" Williams, said the event was a Democratic Party strategy session that was not open to the news media.

"It's a statewide meeting. People are here from all over to talk about the last-minute energizing of African-American voters and the problems they are having with reference to people being able to register, vote early and make sure that they're accounted for," Williams said.

Clyburn termed it a "somewhat Democrat" event. Because some representatives of the United Citizens Party were in attendance, "I would call it bi-partisan or tri-partisan."

Clyburn said a major topic of the event would be "voter suppression" efforts, which he said come in many forms. For instance:

n In Michigan, a Republican legislator said the GOP could win in Michigan if it "suppresses the vote in Detroit," the congressman said.

n In Ohio, the secretary of state tried to restrict access to provisional ballots until a federal judge ruled against him. "I know exactly what the (federal law) says," said Clyburn, who had an integral role in writing it.

n In Florida, "everywhere you turn around," Clyburn said, "there's something else designed to intimidate and suppress the vote."

n In North Carolina, the Republican Party has filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service, claiming a church is violating its tax-exempt status by holding "a get out the vote rally," Clyburn said.

"This is crap!" Clyburn declared. "All of this is foolishness, but it is to be expected. I've been in three different states where I've seen this same language being used, the same words and phrases, in Michigan, in Ohio and in Florida. That is no accident. That's coordination. I'm not going to use the word conspiracy, but call it what you will.

"This kind of intimidation is taking place big-time," Clyburn said, "so that's what this meeting is all about. We've got 17 days until the election. We want to start today laying a foundation that we hope we can build upon for the next 17 days. We want to let people know that we are not to be intimidated."

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