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Sidebar: E-voting Snafus Limited in Scope, Severity

News Story by Matt Hamblen, Heather Havenstein, Linda Rosencrance, Marc L. Songini, Dan Verton and Todd R. Weiss

NOVEMBER 08, 2004 (COMPUTERWORLD) - Reports of e-voting system malfunctions began trickling into various independent monitoring organizations almost as soon as the polls opened last Tuesday. But state officials characterized most of the problems as small-scale snafus.

One of the most serious confirmed glitches was the case of 4,532 missing votes at a precinct in Carteret County, N.C. Gary Bartlett, executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, said Friday that officials were still trying to retrieve the ballots from the storage units of touch-screen systems made by UniLect Corp. in Dublin, Calif.

A total of 7,537 people were listed as having voted at the precinct, but the machines recorded only 3,005 votes. Bartlett said that it wasn't clear why the missing votes weren't accounted for and added that state officials have called on UniLect to "use every possible resource to retrieve those ballots."

The candidates in two unresolved statewide races were within several thousand votes of each other late last week. Bartlett said it was too soon to speculate about what state officials would do if the missing votes in Carteret County can't be retrieved. "It's a big question mark," he said.

Several other states reported less-severe problems. For example, Georgia used Diebold AccuVote-TS touch-screen systems in all of its 159 counties. Only two counties reported problems, according to Cara Hodgson, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state's office. She said that election officials in Twigg and Hancock counties had early-morning difficulties programming the correct ballots into some of their systems.

The encoders built into the balky systems "were still encoded for the primaries, and they hadn't been d," Hodgson said. She added that the two counties issued provisional paper ballots until the system problems were resolved. Otherwise, the state had a "very smooth" day, she said a change from elections in 2002 and last year, in which some Diebold systems locked up, registered "yes" when people voted "no" on ballot questions and displayed the wrong races.

Officials in Louisiana reported "minimal" problems, said Scott Madere, a spokesman for the secretary of state's Elections Office.

Orleans Parish, which includes New Orleans, used 829 AVC Advantage touch-screen devices from Sequoia Voting Systems Inc., and parish officials placed about 30 machine-related service calls on Tuesday, Madere said.

Twenty-four of the calls were for problems that required minor repairs, while the other six led to machines being replaced. But three of the replaced systems were inadvertently turned off by poll workers and couldn't be restarted, Madere said. The other three had technical problems that were "bad enough to pull [them] off-line," he said, but he added that parish officials were able to retrieve all the ballots cast on those systems.

In Ohio, there were no apparent problems in the seven of the state's 88 counties that use touch-screen systems, according to James Lee, a spokesman for the secretary of state's office.

Officials in Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Kentucky and Iowa also said that they hadn't received reports of problems with touch-screen systems or other automated voting machines. However, Dallas County in Iowa opted not to use its e-voting systems out of fear of potential malfunctions, said Anthony Carroll, voter outreach coordinator in the secretary of state's office.

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