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Paper problems jam up electronic voting

ELECTION DELAYS: The lengthy ballot left many printers out of paper, frustrating voters.

10:00 PM PST on Wednesday, November 8, 2006

The Press-Enterprise

Inland-area voters waited for hours at some polling places before they could cast ballots, the delays blamed Wednesday on a long list of candidates and initiatives that ate up both voter time and printer paper on electronic voting machines.

Some voters left frustrated without casting a ballot on Tuesday.

Others had to use backup paper ballots or even the sample ballots they brought to their polling places. In Riverside County, couriers delivered emergency-printed ballots to some precincts as voters waited.

The culprit was the limits of the printer-verification system attached to electronic voting machines, registrar officials said.

"That was our major problem. Either you got a paper jam or the printer used up all its paper, which happened to about all the machines," said Doug Kinzle, assistant registrar for Riverside County.

The voter turnout was as expected, Kinzle said. Semi-official returns show 260,591, or 35.35 percent of eligible voters, cast votes in Riverside County, while 276,454, or 36.78 percent, voted in San Bernardino County.

Kinzle said the VeriVote printers attached to the electronic voting machines carry 300 feet of paper.

Tuesday's ballot, filled with statewide and district office candidates and 13 propositions, as well as local issues, took six feet of paper for a readout if the voter didn't have to change something. That meant one roll of paper was good for about 50 voters.

Voters at the La Sierra Community Center in Riverside said they had to wait as long as three hours.

"Four years voting here and it was never this bad," said Hank Elsner, of Riverside, who had been waiting about 2 hours.

Riverside resident Charles Ray said he arrived at the Temple Beth-El to vote at about 7 p.m. He said two of the five machines were not available and the third was having printer trouble.

Ray said he saw a dozen to 15 people leave in frustration while calls went out and an emergency batch of ballots was delivered at around 8:20 p.m.

"Usually it's a real nice system, but this time it was deplorable," said Ray, 58. "It looked like the poll workers were as frustrated as everyone else," he added.

San Bernardino County registrar of voters Kari Verjil said her office bought 1,000 printer replacements but as the evening wore on, they were used up. "It's not like calculator tape," she explained.

Each printer unit is sealed, and precinct workers can only replace the whole mechanism. Unauthorized opening to replace the paper constitutes tampering with a voting machine, Verjil explained.

In Riverside County, the duty of changing the printer unit is handled by a roving inspector assigned to oversee six or seven precincts, Kinzle said.

Those inspectors are authorized to open units, replace paper rolls and re-seal them if the units cannot be swapped out.

But either way, "All of that takes time and the demand was rather brisk at certain times of the day," Kinzle said.

He said the last Riverside County polling place to close Tuesday shut down at 9:15 p.m. at a desert location.

Verjil estimated a couple of polls in San Bernardino County were open until at least 9 p.m.

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