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Voting system's troubles spread (Photo package)
North Carolina reports issues similar to those in Summit; data read-back failures add to problem of low batteries
By Lisa A. Abraham
Beacon Journal staff writer

A North Carolina election official says 1,000 memory cards delivered to that state from Election Systems & Software had problems similar to those seen in Summit County.

Keith Long, North Carolina voting system manager, said he read Akron Beacon Journal articles about problems with the memory cards in optical-scan voting equipment and called ES&S to see if any of the cards had been sent to his state.

``All 1,000 (memory cards) that had been shipped here had the same problems,'' Long said.

The Omaha, Neb., company is supplying all voting equipment for North Carolina optical-scan machines like the system being installed in Summit County, as well as touch-screen voting machines and specialized machines for the handicapped for the May 2 election there.

ES&S officials contend that bad batteries were to blame for the problem memory cards, but Summit County officials now say that low batteries were the problem in only about one-third of the hundreds of faulty memory cards here.

``The majority of them were read-back errors, not a battery issue,'' Bryan Williams, director of the Summit County Board of Elections, said Wednesday.

``About one-third were battery errors. Two-thirds were read-back errors,'' Williams added.

He said after new batteries were installed in the memory cards, many still failed to work.

Marijean Donofrio, deputy director of the Summit elections board, said memory cards reading ``low battery'' began to work properly when new batteries were installed. But others that read ``dead battery'' still did not work when the batteries were changed.

She said the more common problem was the ``read-back error,'' which occurred when testers were attempting to run a mock election. The memory cards could not read the data programmed onto them.

Williams said the consulting firm hired by the Ohio Secretary of State's Office to test all the new voting equipment is expected to finish its work today.

``By the time they are done with that testing, we are supposed to have 525 good ones,'' Williams said, referring to optical-scan machines.

He said ES&S officials also are expected to issue a report that will detail all the problems seen.

Election day worries

Donofrio said she still has concerns about how all 525 cards will perform, based on the testing.

Williams said the board's information technology staff has questioned what was making the batteries drain and whether they will continue to drain as they sit shelved, waiting for the May 2 election.

``In that case, that could be an issue when we go to program the election. We have no information that is in fact happening, but that is a legitimate question,'' Williams said.

North Carolina's Long said ES&S officials told him low batteries were behind the problems with the memory cards in his state, which raised concerns for him about the life expectancy of the batteries and whether they could fail in the middle of an election.

``Why is the battery low? Is it being discharged because of another problem,'' he said.

ES&S spokeswoman Ellen Bogard said batteries in the memory cards should last between three and five years.

Questions remain

She said the company had no explanation for why the batteries were not holding a charge but believed it was a problem with the batteries, not the memory cards.

However, she also could not explain why the new batteries worked in only some of the Summit cards.

Bogard also could offer no explanation about the ``read-back errors'' that were the main problem in Summit.

She reiterated that the company and its subcontractor that made the memory cards would replace all faulty cards free of charge.

Long said North Carolina law requires the company supplying voting machines to alert the state in the event of problems with the company's voting equipment. He said he received a warning from ES&S about the battery problem in Ohio.

Long said the cards had been distributed to only three counties in North Carolina from the state clearinghouse, but they were only for practice purposes, and no election data had been programmed on them.

Elections in North Carolina are governed by a state board of elections; Long is the board official in charge of overseeing the implementation of voting equipment statewide.

While Long awaits new memory cards, he said, he has been setting up a plan for testing each one on arrival.

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