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Voting problems are surfacing

By Max B. Baker

Star-Telegram Staff Writer   21 October 2004

At least two Tarrant County voters have been unable to cast ballots and 23 voters have received provisional paper ballots because of problems with electronic voting machines that critics contend are proof of the unreliability of electronic balloting.

Tarrant County Elections Administrator Robert Parten stood by the reliability of the county's voting system Wednesday, saying that the state and federal governments certified the machines and that his poll workers are trained to deal with almost any problem.

But in at least two instances, the Star-Telegram found ballots that were not counted after voters encountered problems. In one case, a machine in southwest Fort Worth would not accept a voter's access code, and in another case, a ballot cast in the Como neighborhood was not counted when a voter didn't push a button to complete the voting process.

The examples echo problems that have been reported nationwide since Monday when Texas and several other states kicked off early voting.

"Voting is a human thing," said Jerry Singer, a retired Lockheed Martin employee who said he saw a friend's vote get rejected Tuesday.

"There are some things that are

for computers and some things are not for computers. ... You are totally helpless if you are turning it over to a computer."

Computer and election experts criticized the electronic voting system.

"I'd like to say I'm shocked and amazed, but this is the sort of problem we've been predicting," said Dan Wallach, an assistant professor of computer science at Rice University in Houston.

Since early voting began Monday, about 57,000 ballots have been cast, and Parten predicts that at least 290,000 or about 32 percent of the county's 918,000 registered voters will be submitted before Election Day on Nov. 2.

In Tarrant County, poll workers check a computerized voter registration list on the county's main computer before allowing voters to cast their ballots in computerized voting booths.

Voters and poll workers have faced some difficulties.

On Tuesday, poll workers at Kooken Education Center in Arlington apparently faced several computer glitches.

The computers containing the voter registration rolls apparently lost their connection with the main computer for about 30 minutes, said Parten and Steve Smith, the county official responsible for the computer system.

On the same day, a set of voting booth computers shut down.

"It looked like a couple of older guys were still voting when the computer screens completely shut down," said Cam Sanders, an Arlington teacher. "I think they were talking about whether their votes were lost."

In Fort Worth on Tuesday, Singer said his wife and their friend waited nearly 1 1/2 hours to vote at the Southwest Subcourthouse. But when their friend punched in the access code, he said, the machine froze.

Singer said their friend was not given another chance to vote.

"I'm concerned because I wonder how many others were treated that way," he said.

At Como Elementary School, one voter's ballot was not counted because the voter left too early and forgot to confirm the voter's choices by hitting the right button on the screen, said Loberta Scott, lead clerk at the polling station.

Parten said no one should be turned away from voting because of a computer glitch. Voters can be given a provisional ballot if their names are not on the voter rolls, or directed to other machines if there are problems.

"There isn't any reason for any person at any site to be turned away," he said.

Parten said that the county has used the electronic voting machines for four years with few problems, and that he had "every faith in the workers and that they are doing what they are trained to do."

But Morris Reid, a political consultant in Washington, D.C., scoffed at Parten's confidence. He said not enough money or time have been spent to test and guarantee that these systems work.

"What a joke," he said. "It is easier for someone to vote in Afghanistan than it is in Texas right now, and they have more confidence that their votes are going to be counted."

Staff Writers Aman Batheja and Anthony Spangler contributed to this report.

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