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Voting machine service called poor

By JOHN MARTIN Evansville Courier & Press November 11, 2004

Vanderburgh County's bipartisan Election Board complained Wednesday about the county's voting machine vendor, describing its technical service on Election Day as poor.

Most complaints about Election Systems & Software's performance were leveled by Donald Vowels, the board's Democratic Party representative. But Republican County Clerk Marsha Abell chimed in as well, saying the company's "level of service was not good."  
No Election Systems & Software representatives were at Wednesday's meeting.

Election Board members said the company was slow responding to problems that developed throughout the day. Abell said that when a tabulation machine ran out of paper, a fresh supply was unavailable and she had to personally drive to an office supply store and buy it.

"That's ridiculous," Abell said. "That's just not being prepared."

The vote-counting process also was delayed when a power cord malfunctioned.

"It seemed very apparent to me that the fact there was not a $10 million bond posted for the general election as there was in the primary election impacted their willingness to help on Election Day," said Vowels. Vanderburgh County's new touch-screen voting machines were used for the first time in the May primary election. Software on the machines did not meet a federal certification standard, and the vendor had to post a $10 million bond with the Indiana Election Commission to cover any potential damages in Vanderburgh and other counties with the same software.

The equipment used Election Day did meet the certification standard, so the company wasn't required to post a bond.

Vowels said he also was alarmed on Election Day when an Election Systems & Software executive declared news media representatives were "not allowed to be in the tabulation room ... When he said that to me about keeping the media out, all my red flags went up."

Reporters who wanted to be in the room were allowed to stay in, but Vowels said that was only because the attorneys present protested.

Vowels urged commissioners to review their contract with Election Systems & Software to see if the company fulfilled its obligations.

"Maybe they met what they were obligated to do, but it was rotten (service)," Vowels said.

The Vanderburgh County Commissioners on Monday ordered the election results undergo an independent audit because of various reports of machine breakdowns and malfunctions. Commissioners asked the county's chief information officer, Matt Arvay, to get price quotes for the audit, and they also agreed that a bipartisan team should be present when Election Systems & Software conducts its own post-election audit.

Abell said several malfunctions at polling places were due to poll workers not attending training. Of the 700 or so poll workers, about 330 did not attend training, and only 12 people showed up for a training session on the Sunday prior to the election, Abell said.

The Election Board passed a resolution stating that in future elections, poll workers who do not attend pre-election training would only be paid half of their compensation, which range from $70 to $85.

In other business, the Election Board voted unanimously to appeal the ruling by Circuit Judge Carl Heldt in a suit brought by local Democrats demanding that candidates on election ballots be assigned numbers. Heldt ruled that a state statute requires numbers. Election Board members noted that the decision affects all 92 Indiana counties, some of which quit using numbers as they changed to electronic voting.

"To comply with the judge's order, we need some guidance from the Legislature or a court on how to assign these numbers, since that's how it's going to be," said Les Shively, the Election Board's attorney.

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