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Computer problem slows early balloting

SARASOTA Early voting hit an afternoon slowdown Tuesday as problems with a county computer system prevented elections workers from looking up voters' information.

Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent stressed that the problems, which completely halted voting for 20 minutes at one location, had "nothing to do with the voting machines."

"It had to do with checking the voters in," she said. "The machines are fine."

The problems came out of a county computer network and did not even start from Dent's office, she said.

Despite Tuesday's problems, Dent also said that more than 4,600 people had come out in the first two days of early voting, which ends Nov. 5.

At one voting location, Gulf Gate Library, the computer problems began about 1:15 p.m., said Betty Maddox, deputy registrar for the county's voter services division.

Elections workers were unable to get into a database containing voters' registration numbers, voting histories, and information about whether a voter received an absentee ballot.

Maddox said early voting stopped for about 20 minutes while workers waited to see if the computer network would start working again.

When that didn't happen, voters were allowed to enter the building, and Maddox got on the phone and called the main office for voters' information.

Lines were long as the process slowed for more than an hour.

Dent said that the problems initially affected six locations. Some of the locations were able to switch over to a supervisor of elections network and get things moving faster.

The locations that continued to have difficulties with the county's computer network included Gulf Gate Library and Fruitville Library.

Everything was back to normal at Gulf Gate Library by 3 p.m.

Dent said that nothing like this has happened before.

"This has not been a good day," she said.

By mid-afternoon, she was getting e-mails and phone calls.

She heard that one person was falsely advising others not get out of their cars because the machines were broken.

"It was the usual hysteria," she said.

If anything, the county computer problems caused frustration among some voters who had to wait, said Clay Massey of Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections.

Massey was standing outside Gulf Gate Library during the slowdown, handing out literature questioning the reliability of electronic voting machines.

He said there were "big lines" and that some people who had to wait seemed "irritable."

"People would drive up and see the lines, and they would just keep going," he said.

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