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Problem-free day at polls erases memories of past glitches, bubbles       

By Jeanette Steele    San Diego UNION-TRIBUNE    July 27, 2005

SAN DIEGO ? For the first time in a while, voting in San Diego seemed to go smoothly.

During Tuesday's balloting, there was no question of whether people remembered to fill in a bubble when writing in a name. There were no computer glitches to frustrate workers.  
The troubleshooters whom the San Diego County Registrar of Voters had standing by didn't have much to do.

"We have a whole troubleshooting hotline where people are sitting very quiet," said Registrar Mikel Haas, about a hour before voting concluded.

Even a power outage in Mira Mesa didn't stop the vote scanners, which have back-up batteries. Out of 713 voting locations, two opened about 15 minutes late Tuesday morning, but only one had voters waiting, Haas said.

"We've had no problems today. The machines are working really good," said Mary Jane Blunt, a precinct inspector in North Park, who stationed herself by the scanning machine to make sure it behaved. It did, she said, except for a few misfeeds that were corrected immediately.

There was some commotion at night, however.

About 10:45 at the registrar's office in Kearny Mesa, a member of a group that monitors elections stormed into a computer room where votes were being tabulated. Jim March, who sits on the board of Black Box Voting, complained about having to observe from behind a window eight feet away. When an election worker opened the door, March bolted inside.

Two sheriff's deputies jumped from their seats, pulled him out of the room and led him to a patrol car.

Thirty minutes earlier, March told a reporter he was going to perform an act of civil disobedience.

The day was markedly different than March 2004, when a new touch-screen system malfunctioned.

Paralyzed by a computer glitch, the touch-screen problems caused more than one-third of polling places to open late and an unknown number of voters were turned away.

The secretary of state later banned San Diego and three other counties from using touch-screen machines made by Diebold Election Systems. Diebold hopes to get its touch-screen machines recertified for the June 2006 election by adding a process that leaves a paper trail. The scanning machines used Tuesday are made by Diebold.

In the November balloting, more headaches occurred, that time because of the fill-in-the-bubble system.

More than 5,500 votes in the mayor's race weren't counted because people didn't fill in the bubble when writing in Donna Frye's name.

This time, there's no question of a write-in fiasco. No one was certified as a write-in candidate, Haas said.

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