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Results slowed by machine trouble (ME)
By COLIN HICKEY, Staff Writer Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel Thursday, November 09, 2006

WATERVILLE City Clerk Arlene Strahan went to bed at 2 a.m. Wednesday, 18 hours after she started her Election Day duties in Waterville.

That's what happens when one of your voting machines the one with 2,200 ballots breaks down.

Warden Roland Hallee knew a long night was ahead when the third of three voting machines showed Senate District 25 candidate Lisa T. Marrache with about 27,000 votes.

True, Marrache won her hometown of Waterville handily.

But 27,000 votes is about 16,000 more than the number of registered voters in the city.

Strahan consulted with the Secretary of State's Office as well as with the company, LHS Inc. of Metheun, Mass., which provides technical support for the seven optical scan tabulators Waterville uses.

"I explained to them what happened," Strahan said of election division staff at the Secretary of State's Office, "and what LHS told me and how they wanted me to handle it."

Strahan was forced to re-enter the more than 5,000 state-election ballots cast Tuesday. Although those ballots initially were processed through three separate machines, election staff combined them into one tamper-proof bin once the three tapes listing the tallies had been run but before Hallee realized one of the tapes had incorrect information.

Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn said Strahan handled the situation properly, given Waterville's circumstances.

In many larger communities, she said, with more than one polling station, processed ballots are put into several tamper-proof bins.

This makes the process of re-entering ballots less daunting if one of the machines malfunctions.

In Waterville's case, because all the voting takes place at the American Legion hall, all the ballots are put into one bin.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with that," Flynn said. "It just meant they had to do more work to recover the ballots and get the results."

More work is right.

Strahan said she and her election team finally finished their work around 1:30 Wednesday morning.

"I am so impressed with the people I had working with me," she said. "They were so pleasant no complaints."

Strahan said the technical troubles started with a paper jam to the voting machine around 2 or 3 p.m.

"What happened is somebody cleared the jam," she said, "and then somebody tried to put a ballot in and nothing happened, and the ready light on the machine went out and didn't come back on."

When that happened, Strahan removed the memory pack from the malfunctioning machine. Strahan said in most cases that memory pack can be run off another tabulator to get the results of the ballots scanned.

Flynn confirmed this.

"It is unusual for the machine to go where the memory is not recoverable," she said. "That has never happened, at least not to my knowledge, in the state elections I've been involved in the last 12 years or so."

Strahan, too, said the malfunction remains puzzling. Before Election Day, Strahan said she ran standard tests on the city's seven tabulators and each worked properly.

Still, the end is near for the city's current voting machines.

Strahan said LHS Inc. is phasing out the machines and will no longer provide technical support.

The city already has some money dedicated to buying replacements, but voting machines are not cheap. Strahan said they cost about $6,000 each.

Colin Hickey 861-9205

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