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Paper ballots to back up machines
TRIBUNE-REVIEW  By Rich Cholodofsky  November 9, 2006

Paper ballots will be available at each of Westmoreland County's 306 voting precincts in future elections, county officials said Wednesday.

That policy change was made yesterday, a day after a software glitch affected every touch-screen computerized voting machine used during Tuesday's vote.

The problem, an incorrect time stamp in the voting cartridges that contained the ballots, resulted in about 10 machines to prematurely shut down and six machines to be inadvertently closed at the start of yesterday's polling.

Several precincts had to turn away voters for a short time because paper ballots were initially unavailable at the polls while technicians worked to restart some of the computerized machines.

At the precinct at Seneca Heights Elementary School in Jeannette, about 100 paper ballots eventually were cast after elections bureau workers drove out from the courthouse with the ballots.

"We'll have a small amount of paper ballots at every precinct in the future in case something like this happens again," said Westmoreland Commissioner Tom Balya.

Meanwhile, county officials spent yesterday investigating the error that resulted in more than 800 voting machines to act as if Tuesday was not Election Day.

The machines, instead of automatically loading ballot after ballot for voters, required that poll workers manually keep the computers on after each ballot was cast. If a poll worker pressed a button when prompted by the computer to end the voting, the machines shut off and could not be restarted.

County leaders insisted ES&S Inc. of Nebraska, which supplied the computerized machines, made the error. A company spokeswoman on Tuesday blamed the county for programming the software glitch.

"We'll find out what happened," said Commissioner Tom Ceraso. "We want to make sure it doesn't happen again. But the good news is that if it does, we now know how to deal with it."

According to the Pennsylvania Bureau of Elections, most of the equipment failures involved voting machines in Lancaster, Lebanon and Westmoreland counties.

"These issues were a result of mainly human error, and most occurred during the opening of the polls, which is common in any election using any type of voting system. In every instance, counties took the proper steps to address the issues promptly and effectively," said Loida Esbri, a spokesman for the Department of State.

There were equipment failures in other counties as well, including Allegheny, where paper ballots had to be used for part of the day at a precinct in Monroeville.

For a while on Tuesday, Westmoreland officials were unsure just how the software problem would impact vote counting.

But, as the returns were being loaded into county computers, it became evident the glitch had little effect on the initial tallies.

Votes were reported at a record pace, with the last precinct having its totals uploaded to county computers shortly after 11:30 p.m. Voting reports in the spring primary took much longer to generate because of delays in closing the polls and traffic tie-ups around the courthouse.

Despite a higher voter turnout on Tuesday, about 54 percent, polls were able to close on time. And traffic was not an issue, officials said.

Now comes the task of certifying the results, a process that could take several weeks.

Ceraso said elections officials will take flash cards from each voting machine and compare them with the cartridges on which the ballots and votes are stored. Officials will look to see if vote totals reflect the number of voters who cast ballots.

Rich Cholodofsky can be reached at rcholodofsky@tribweb.com or (724) 830-6293.


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