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Scattered problems reported with voting machines
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette By Gabrielle Banks  November 07, 2006

Twenty of the new electronic voting machines were removed from polling places across Allegheny County this morning because of technical glitches, and one polling site in Monroeville resorted to using paper ballots for 45 minutes, elections officials said today.

All 20 machines have been taken out of service. In some precincts, they were replaced with backup machines. In others, poll workers made do with the machines available. The county has 4,600 voting machines in use and 100 in reserve. In addition, election officials have hired 200 rovers to scout for problems and they have 56 technicians on call, said Mark Wolosik, manager of the county elections division.

Some machines were not "zeroing out," which they need to do to start up, he said.

Between 7 and 8 a.m. the election call center received about 150 calls, but by late morning the calls had trickled down to 27 per hour, he said. He said in 40 years with the lever machines, the county experienced just as many calls about problems when the polls opened. There were 6,500 paid volunteers between 6 and 7 a.m. trying to get started on new a relatively new system. He considers the new machines a success.

Mr. Wolosik called voter turnout "brisk" despite scattered rain showers in some parts of the county. He anticipates 52 percent voter participation.

Voters in Brighton Heights, Pine, Bethel Park, Penn Hills, Mount Washington and McCandless contacted the Post-Gazette to report problems at their polling places. A rover in Dormont reported the polling station had an incomplete voter list and officials sent out a new list.

Naomi Stephenson, manager of voter registration, said the 15 lines at the county elections call center have been ringing non-stop, mostly with callers asking where their polling place is. The center is fielding more calls than she recalls in any recent mid-term election.

"We're answering them as fast as we can. You'll get through eventually even if you get put on hold," she said.

Some of the reported problems did not have to do with machine breakdowns.

Judge Beth A. Lazzara held several election-related hearings this morning, according to County Solicitor Mike Wojcik.

Some hospitalized voters wanted approval to use alternative ballots. Judge Lazzara granted their request.

Another hearing addressed charges of voter intimidation at three or four polling sites in the North Hills, including one in Franklin Park. Voters said a partisan group set up tables outside the site and were "interrogating" voters before they went in, asking whether they had proper identification. The judge issued a countywide order for all such activity to cease. She also sent sheriff's deputies to patrol the sites in question.

A voter who asked for permission to view the parallel test of the voting machines, which is going on for control purposes and will not count towards the elections, was denied.

Finally, a Green Party voter requested permission to observe the tabulation of votes this evening. Judge Lazzara granted this request.

Election Protection monitors reported they found polling sites in the county that lacked paper or provisional ballots, according to data tracked by People for the American Way.

The voting machine problems were similar to the glitches that occurred earlier this year.

During the spring primary, when the machines were first used in the county, poll workers reported problems getting the machines to register a zero-vote count. The zero-vote count is necessary to serve as a baseline and ensure no votes are stored on the machines before official voting begins.

Overall, however, county officials said the machines worked well in the primary.

Voters today were casting ballots on electronic voting machines for the first time in every Pennsylvania county as wary election watchdogs closely monitored the polls for equipment glitches and other problems.

The Department of State, which includes the state elections office, reported minor problems as polls opened.

"Typical sort of glitches," department spokeswoman Cathy Ennis said. "The opening of the polls is typically where the challenges are."

One hiccup arose Tuesday morning in Lebanon County, where election officials extended polling hours throughout the county by one hour, to 9 p.m., after a programming error affected devices that set up the ballot machines for each voter, said county administrator Jamie Wolgemuth.

Common Cause, sponsor of one voter problem hot line 1-866-MYVOTE1 said the line had received 9,500 calls nationally in the 24-hour period ending about midmorning today, with the most (1,300) coming from Pennsylvania.

Barry Kauffman, director of Pennsylvania Common Cause, said that his group had reports of several polling places around the state opening late because of "machine malfunctions, or local officials now knowing how to operate them."

State Democratic Party officials said there were "minor glitches" reported in Dauphin, Lebanon, Lawrence, Pike, Lancaster, Bradford, Cumberland, Somerset, Northumberland, Wyoming and Lackawanna counties. Most of the problems were resolved in an hour, party chair T.J. Rooney said.

In the May primary, all but one of the 67 counties used electronic touch-screen or optical-scan voting systems that comply with federal standards. Since then, Bucks County in suburban Philadelphia has also switched.


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