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Human errors hamper voting

Amendment election a test run for electronic machines

By Robert Morgan/Times Record News
November 10, 2005

First thing Tuesday morning, Lisa McCarty headed off to the election polls at McGaha Elementary School with her 11 year-old daughter, Kati, in tow.

McCarty's plan was to cast her ballot in the constitutional amendment election, Kati off at school, and then head to work.  
Unfortunately, the best laid plans of Lisa and election workers often go awry.

As she walked through the door at 7:15 a.m., an election worker informed her, "You can't vote."

And "no one seemed to care but me," Lisa recalled about the poll workers reaction.

She persuaded one of the women to phone the county clerk's office for help. But there was no answer.

Lisa said she waited at the polls for about 15 minutes before leaving - like about 20 people before her.

For Wichita County officials, this incident marked the beginning of a troubled Election Day that stretched well into the night.

Lori Bohannon, county clerk, attributed the election problems to glitches.

In explanation of the McGaha problem, Bohannon said the booths just took longer to set up than expected.

Another problem the county experienced was extracting the election returns from the electronic voting machines. Because some of the machines did not shut down correctly after the polls were closed, the totals were not accessible through the usual manner.

Luckily, the county had three employees with Electronic Systems and Software, the county's election vendor, on hand for such an occasion.

They were able to extract the voter information manually by removing the machines' memory. By late Wednesday morning, the County Clerk's office had successfully pulled and calculated the results from all 35 precincts.

Jill Friedman, an ES&S spokeswoman, said, in her understanding, the machines functioned 100 percent as they should have. The problems, which were minor, were human related, she added.

Human error means the County Clerk's office did not properly conduct the zero out process - a process used to erase the voting machines' memories. Since this process was skipped, the totals were inaccessible.

But the results were ultimately tallied, Friedman said, and no votes were lost. It's just a "learning curve" error, which did not affect the outcome.

These problems didn't come as a big surprise to Bohannon or County Judge Woody Gossom. Both officials have repeatedly said they wanted November's constitutional elections to be a test run for the newly acquired electronic voting machines.

Gossom said out of the 35 precincts, the county only had trouble with five precincts' machines.

"I don't think that's too bad for something that was such a change," he said.

Bohannon said Wichita County wasn't the only county in Texas experiencing problems either.

According to Scott Haywood, Secretary of State spokesman, there were a "few incidents statewide," and untrained workers, not the machines, caused the majority of those problems.

Overall, though, Haywood categorized this election as smooth.

Like Haywood, Gossom was also pleased with election.

In response to the human error problems, Gossom said the county would focus on improved volunteer training and try to increase the poll workers confidence levels with the machines.

"When trying to train as many people as we did . . . you're going to have some problems," Gossom said about the possibility of some ill prepared poll workers.

"Hopefully, we'll do better in the primaries," he added.

As for Lisa, she did get to finally cast her ballot, an area of concern for her daughter.

"She knows on Election Day you vote. You vote every time," Lisa said about a civic duty she has impressed upon her daughter.

Just before bedtime, Kati inquired, "Did you ever get to vote?"

Lisa said her boss gave her some time to return to the McGaha polls. Her overall impression of the voting machines was satisfaction. But the poll workers, she said, "need to be trained."

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