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New voting machine malfunctions

Erin Phillips
Bay City Tribune    November 09, 2005

Matagorda County?s new voting machine did not work Tuesday night and officials hoped a replacement out of Omaha, Neb. will tabulate the results of the constitutional amendments election.

Out of the county?s 12 election precincts, the early vote was the only one counted on the new machine before it quit working Tuesday night.

With about 1,200 early votes counted ? roughly 8.3 percent of the county?s 20,746 registered voters ? the overall turnout promises to be higher than the 2003 constitutional amendments election.

An estimated 5,000 Matagorda County voters cast ballots in this election, or about 20 percent of the county?s registered voters, County Clerk Gail Denn said. There were 2,663 votes cast in the 2003 election.

"From Palacios we received 2,000 ballots and we did not receive the ballot boxes from Bay City until around 9:30 because there were so many people at the polls," said Denn.

Election day voting machine problems are nothing new to Denn and her staff. They had to wait almost two days before declaring the winners of last November's general election.

The delay last year was due partly because the previous machine was 20 years old.

Commissioners court authorized the county clerk's office to spend $168,100 on new voting equipment after the 2004 delays. The new device arrived Oct. 26 and the training of Denn?s staff and trial runs went smoothly.

There were no problems when the machine tabulated the early-vote ballots, Denn said.

The trouble started after the polls closed at 7 p.m. Tuesday and the 11 other precinct boxes began arriving at the clerk's office.

"We started getting boxes in at about 7:30 and when we sorted them and began to start counting the machine quit working," said Denn.

Denn called a technician from Victoria to get the machine repaired.

"He tried working on it but he didn't have the equipment he needed to get the machine fixed," she said.

Denn then arranged for another tabulation machine to be sent from Omaha-based Election Systems & Software, the voting machine vendor.

The new machine was flown in and arrived at the courthouse Wednesday morning.

Once the election judge certifies the replacement Denn?s staff will run the ballots.

The clerk's office stayed at the courthouse until 1:30 a.m. Wednesday to make the machine work.

"We worked so hard to get the new machine in and to get trained on it and to test it, and now this happens," said Denn.

In addition to the new machine, the county also bought a two-year warranty from ES&S to ensure machine?s repair. Denn affirmed the machine will be covered under warranty.

After the votes per precinct are canvassed by the commissioners court Nov. 21, the results become official, said Denn.

"Its just sad, I know that we'll get the results in and get past this, but all of the clerks worked so hard for this election, that for this to happen makes me sick," said Denn.

The Tribune will our Web site with the election results as soon as they become available.

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