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Voters face low-tech problem: Not enough pens
Chicago Tribune  By John McCormick and Josh Noel  07 November 2006

Early morning voting brought dozens of complaints about malfunctioning electronic voting machines and a lack of special pens required to mark the alternative paper ballots.

As the complaints mounted, Cook County Clerk David Orr was dispatched with boxes of the pens to deliver while making his traditional inspection of suburban Cook County polling places.

"We have had many, many complaints," said Kelley Quinn, an Orr spokeswoman. "More than 100."

Also this morning, county officials said they received a court order to keep two polling places open an hour later this evening because judges did not show up and they were not able to open up by 6 a.m. Precinct 7 in Cicero and Precinct 92 in Bloomfield Township will remain open until 8 p.m.

Mayor Richard Daley opted for touch-screen voting Tuesday at his Near South Side polling place even as his wife, Maggie, took a paper ballot.

"The touch screen machine is great," Daley said after casting his ballot. "You get in there and, boom, just mark it down."

The mayor took a dim view of the new paper ballot.

"Now they are drawing lines across," he said. "I don't understand that one…I don't know what that means."

The touch screen "is much faster and much easier," Daley said.

On the pen issue, Quinn said each precinct was given approximately eight at the start of the day, but many locations had run out within the first few hours of voting. "But people walk off with them," she said.

By late morning, election officials were scrambling to replenish the supply, dispatching additional pens from their 19 equipment repair stations across suburban Cook County.

If a voter uses another pen - as long as it isn't a red one or one that bleeds through the paper ballot - Quinn said it would still be counted, although the chances of it being rejected by the optical scanner will increase.

"With a blue or black pen, it will get read," she said.

The special pen being given to voters is a Sakura Pigma micron drawing pen, a fine-point writing tool with waterproof quick-drying pigmented ink. The county paid $1.14 per pen.

"The pen issue is not of a scale that we are worried," said Gail Siegel, another spokeswoman for Orr. "If this is our biggest worry we are happy. Nobody has been prevented from voting because of a pen shortage."

Tom Leach, spokesman for the Chicago Board of Election, said the city has also received pen complaints.

In the Chicago help center on the 8th floor of 69 W. Washington St., a bank of 70 phones have been ringing constantly with calls of complaints ranging from equipment problems to a lack of election judges.

Election officials remedy the situation in three ways: they talk through the problem, dispatch one of 200 investigators to the scene, or dispatch one of 50 voting machine technicians.

At mid-morning, both the city and county reported fewer problems and complaints than in the March primary. Officials said it was a result of additional training for election judges and changes that have been made to voting equipment.

"It's still busy, don't get me wrong, but it is not as hectic as in March," Leach said.

There have been incidents in which touch screen machines and optical scan machines have not worked, so some precinct officials have had voters fill out paper ballots which are stored in a locked storage box because electronic voting technology has failed.

The city was supposed to supply every precinct with 12 pens.


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