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Early voting going smoothly most places; some counties report technical problems
This article was published on Tuesday, October 31, 2006 7:47 PM CST in News
By John Lyon
The Morning News

    LITTLE ROCK Early voting has been going smoothly in most counties across the state, officials said Tuesday, although at least one county dispensed with electronic voting machines because of technical problems.

Early voting began Oct. 23 for the Nov. 7 general election and ends Monday. Election officials said early voting turnout has been about the same or heavier than it was at this time in the last midterm election.

Pulaski County Election Commission Chairman Kent Walker said 17,500 people had voted in the county by midafternoon Tuesday, which is more than the 14,700 who voted during the entire early voting period in 2002.

The increase may be the result of greater public awareness of the availability of early voting, Walker said.

Meanwhile, voters in Garland County have been casting paper ballots because of programming problems with personalized electronic ballots, or PEBs, Garland County Election Commissioner Charles Tapp said.

A PEB has to be used to bring up a ballot on the screen of an iVotronic voting machine for a vote to be cast electronically.

The machines were provided by Electronic Systems & Software, the Omaha, Neb.-based company that the state hired to provide touchscreen election equipment to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act.

"When we got to the point of trying to do our three amendments, everything just scrambled," Tapp said.

Garland was one of a handful of counties that chose to do its own programming of the iVotronic machines rather than have ES&S do the programming.

"We want to be in full charge of our elections here in Garland County," Tapp said.

ES&S spokeswoman Jill Friedman-Wilson said the company has volunteered to try to fix the problem before Election Day.

"What we're doing at this point is above what's expected and required," she said.

Tapp said ES&S was supposed to train Garland County election officials to do the programming, but even the programmer encountered problems.

Natasha Naragon, spokeswoman for the secretary of state's office, said she has received no reports that other counties have experienced problems as serious as Garland County's. She said ES&S has increased training of election officials and made other changes to correct problems with vote tallying that plagued the May primaries.

"Their performance level has really stepped up since the primary," she said.

Sebastian County also chose to do its own programming. County Clerk Doris Tate said she was the first person in the county to attempt to vote on an iVotronic machine when early voting began Oct. 23, and her PEB would not work.

"We canceled that ballot, and I voted on paper," Tate said.

Election Coordinator Jerry Huff said the election commission fixed the programming-related problem.

"Wednesday the machines were up and running, and they've used them for early voting ever since," Huff said Tuesday.

Voters in Sebastian County are being given a choice between paper and electronic ballots. Tate estimated that of the 4,110 people who had voted by 2:15 p.m. Tuesday, only about 35 to 40 people had chosen to use a touchscreen machine.

"Electronic hasn't been a big deal in Sebastian County," she said.

In Benton County, where the machines were programmed by ES&S, a programming problem occurred with the first early voting attempt, County Clerk Mary Slinkard said.

Slinkard said she believed the voter was given a photocopied ballot. No other problems have occurred with the electronic equipment, she said.

Paper ballots are being given only to those Benton County voters who request one, Slinkard said. Most voters have used the electronic machines, which they seem to like, she said.

"Most of them just say, 'Oh wow, this is easy,'" Slinkard said.

In Crawford County, which is not using paper ballots for early voting, voters also like the electronic machines, County Clerk Patti Hill said.

"We've had a lot of good comments, and I'm talking about all age groups. We've had some in here that have been 90 plus, and we're still hearing those comments from them," she said.

At the Pulaski County Courthouse on Tuesday, Betty Worthington of Little Rock said she had some trouble using an iVotronic machine.

"I thought I pushed something, but it said I didn't, so I had to go back," she said.

Worthington's husband, Rodney, said he had no problems.

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