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Voting machine problem shuts down Civic Auditorium site

Published 11/01/2006 By J.H. OSBORNE

Early voters enter Kingsport's Civic Auditorium. Don Fenley photo.

BLOUNTVILLE - Early voting for the Nov. 7 election ends today in Tennessee - and more than 21,000 Sullivan County voters had cast early ballots by the time the polls closed Wednesday.

Polls in Sullivan County will be open today from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Wednesday was the heaviest turnout day in Sullivan County so far for this early voting period, despite a problem that shut down the county's busiest polling place for about an hour.

In all, 2,769 ballots were cast Wednesday at three early voting locations in the county, according to unofficial results released by Administrator of Elections Gena Frye.

The problem that caused a temporary interruption at the Kingsport Civic Auditorium site won't be a concern on Election Day, Frye said.

Sullivan County uses electronic voting machines that voters saw for the first time this summer. The system uses one judges booth control (JBC) device at each polling place - all voting machines at that location are connected to one JBC. The problem Wednesday was that each JBC can only hold data from 10,000 ballots, Frye said - and turnout at the Kingsport Civic Auditorium surpassed that point about midday.

Election workers had to shut down the voting booths and install a new JBC, Frye said. It shouldn't be a problem on Election Day because no precinct in the county has 10,000 registered voters, Frye said.

Registered voters may cast early ballots at any one of three early voting locations in Sullivan County:

•Kingsport Civic Auditorium, 1550 Fort Henry Drive.

•Sullivan County Election Commission, 3258 Hwy. 126, Blountville.

•YWCA of Bristol, 106 State St.

On Election Day, however, voters must vote at their precinct - only voters who are registered at the three locations above can vote there on Election Day.

The Kingsport location has been the most used early voting site, each day and in total. In all, 10,965 voters had cast early ballots there as of Wednesday, compared to 6,472 in Blountville and 3,709 in Bristol.

Early voting began Oct. 18.

In all, 21,146 Sullivan County voters had early voted in person by close of polls Wednesday. And another 1,320 absentee ballots had been received by the Sullivan County Election Commission.

The two figures combined represent about one-fourth of all registered voters in the county.

In the last comparable election, in November 2002, about 12,700 voters cast ballots during the entire early voting period.

According to the Tennessee Election Commission's Web site:

•Statewide, 668,239 early ballots had been cast as of close of polls Tuesday.

•In Washington County, 10,769 ballots had been cast since early voting began, including 1,210 on Tuesday.

•In Hawkins County, 5,357 ballots had been cast since early voting began, including 599 on Tuesday.

•In Hancock County, 526 ballots had been cast since early voting began, including 82 on Tuesday.

Statewide early voting figures for Wednesday were not yet available.

The Nov. 7 ballot includes races for governor, state House, U.S. House and U.S. Senate.

Also on the ballot are two state constitutional amendment questions.

Voter passage of Amendment No. 1 would define marriage as being between one man and one woman - and specifically bar recognition of marriages permitted in any other state that differs from that definition.

Voter passage of Amendment No. 2 would allow, but not require, the state legislature to implement a program of property tax relief for persons 65 years of age or older. Local governments would have to adopt the law for it to become effective in each jurisdiction. In other words, the county commission would have to adopt the law for it to affect county property taxes, and city boards or councils would have to adopt the law for it to affect city property taxes.

Voters are spending an average of three or four minutes in the booth, Frye said.

This will be the second election in which county voters use new voting machines, which will be used at all county precincts.

There will be 136 voting machines in use on Election Day, compared to 100 on Aug. 3. The ballot this time around is also considerably shorter than on Aug. 3, when voters had to navigate through about 50 questions. The ballot for the Nov. 7 election has only six, the longest of which are the constitutional questions.

Frye has said some voters have expressed confusion over the two questions, but election workers are not allowed, by law, to offer any explanations.

And election officials urge voters to study the ballot before entering the voting booth, to ask any questions they have before they push the button to cast their ballot, and not to push that button until they've made all their choices.

An interactive demonstration of the new voting machines is online at www.hartintercivic.com.

For more information, including sample ballots, contact the election office at 323-6444 or visit www.sullivancounty.org and click on the election office link.

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