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Problems await some local voters at the polls
Houston Chronicle, Nov. 7, 2006 By DAN FELDSTEIN and ANITA HASSAN

Voters across the Houston area today were already finding long lines and problems with electronic voting machines as they tried to cast their ballots.

In Fort Bend County, where there is a contentious battle for the Congressional seat vacated earlier this year by former Rep. Tom DeLay, poll workers discovered that electronic machines had been switched in at least two precincts, delaying voters and casting some uncertainty on ballots already cast.

Voting had already been under way for at least 45 minutes at Oak Lake Baptist Church in Sugar Land, when it was learned the the machines were labeled for Lexington Creek Elementary School in Missouri City.

Gwen Ross, the election judge there, closed down the voting for almost an hour to resolve the confusion. All but one of the 20 voters in line, waited it out. The man who left said he would come back after a poll worker took his phone number to alert him when the problem was fixed.

Tallies show that 64 people voted before the mistake had been discovered. Ross kept their names and votes on a separate tally sheet because she was unsure whether the ballot was different for the other precinct.

Ellen Hunt, a poll watcher for the Nick Lampson campaign, said she saw at least a couple other people leave from the back of the line, but praised Ross for her handling of the situation.

Earlier today, in Stafford, Nick Lampson cast his ballot at the Stafford campus of Houston Community College. He said the electronic machine was easy to use and Robert Evans, a Stafford resident, agreed.

He used the write-in function. " You just have to pay attention. I think about 10 percent will ask for help. You know, some people can't punch tabs either."

James Rivera, also a Stafford resident, said "It's like anything new. You have to kind of work with it."

At Lexington Creek Elementary in Missouri City, the problem with the voting machines was discovered and corrected before the polls opened. Voters there had only to deal with long lines. At 10 a.m., 53 people were waiting to cast their ballots.

Meanwhile, prroblems were also found at Brazos Bend Elementary school in Sugar Land where election judge Fred Meyer discovered that he had the wrong machine at 7 a.m. with 70 people in line. ``Thank God the people we're patient. They just waited.''

County officials had a proper machine to the site in 40 minutes. Only four people left Meyer said, noting that they told him they would come back later.

Technical difficulties in a Third Ward precinct also stalled voters this morning.

Precinct 85 Judge Lynette Howard said three of the seven E-Slate voting machines at Lockhart Elementary school had not been working properly since the polls opened at 7 a.m.

She said two of the machines were inactive and another was misnumbeing itself.

"It's a glitch,'' said Howard, 64, who has been the precicnt judge for more than 10 years. "But it's an important election and you don't want glitches.''

About 15 people who showed up earlier this morning had to leave because of the problems with the machines but Howard said she is certain they will return.

"We know our neighbors,'' she said. "They're coming back.''

Eldridge Connally, 27, said any delays at the polls this morning would not deter him from casting his vote. "I want to voice my opinion,'' he said. "And it doesn't matter how long it takes.''

Howard said she called the tech support crew at the County Clerk's office, which is responsible for the machines. No one had come to fix the problem for more than two hours. A crew finally arrived around 9:30 a.m.

"Tech support is just non-existent. We were on hold for 40 minutes before we just hung up.''

Third ward resident Derek McNeil said that he finds the electronic voting machines untrustworthy.

"I wish they would just bring the paper ballots back," said the 39-year-old real estate agent. "Machines can be hacked."

Programming errors and inexperience with electronic voting machines frustrated poll workers today in hundreds of precincts across the country, delaying voters in Indiana and Ohio and leaving some in Florida with little choice but use paper ballots instead.

In Cleveland, Ohio, voters rolled their eyes as election workers fumbled with new touchscreen machines that they couldn't get to start properly.

With a third of Americans voting on new equipment and voters navigating new registration databases and changing ID rules, election watchdogs had worried about polling problems even before the voting began.


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