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Voting equipment glitches lingering

By John McCormick
Tribune staff reporter
Published November 2, 2006

With the 18-day early voting period ending Thursday, Chicago and Cook County election officials have had a chance to test the changes in software, hardware and training made since the messy March primary.

The results: still somewhat messy.

Trouble reports filed by voters and polling-place workers during early voting show glitches ranging from broken equipment to calibration issues with touch screens. With roughly 40,000 ballots cast through Monday, the forms offer a glimpse at what to expect in Tuesday's election.

"Screen goes black, beeps," reads one form. "Card will not lock into the unit," reads another.

Even at 69 W. Washington St., the headquarters for city and county election officials, there were problems during early voting.

"Alignment keeps going out. Voters complain," a complaint filed Friday said. "They recalibrate. A couple voters later, they complain. They recalibrate. They complain, etc. For two days straight." The touch-screen machine was then sent to the city's warehouse for "further testing and repairs."

At a news conference Wednesday, officials promised a smoother election than in March, when there was confusion and some results were delayed for up to a week. But they also stressed that all elections have problems because so many people and pieces of equipment are involved.

"We're doing everything in our power to make things work better," Cook County Clerk David Orr said. "I don't want [voters] to worry."

Officials stressed the presence of a paper back-up record at virtually every step in the system and said the most likely issue would be slow results, especially if there are close races.

Chicago and Cook officials said they had received "a few" complaints from early voters about pressing one candidate name on a touch screen and having the machine record another. That's exactly what happened to Robert Leick when he went to vote on the Northwest Side in late October.

"It came up under Blagojevich when the `X' went in the box," said Leick, a Democrat who wanted to vote for Judy Baar Topinka for governor. "I hit it again, and the same thing came up."

Officials said this mixing of candidate names can happen if the machine's screen has not been properly calibrated. They are instructing poll workers to monitor for such problems.

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