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Voters' long fingernails to blame for some problems, officials say

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution  By Rhonda Cook  November 8, 2006
Machine glitches delayed and frustrated many voters at several metro Atlanta precincts Tuesday.

Perhaps most disconcerting, some voters reported that when they tried to cast votes for Democrats, the voting machines showed an X by the Republican candidate's name.

"It was weird. I had to override it two or three times to get it to work," DeKalb County voter Barbara Gillies said.

DeKalb officials blamed electronic machines that were not properly calibrated - and voters with long fingernails.

After hearing complaints, election officials dispatched technicians to recalibrate some machines, said Linda Latimore, DeKalb's director of voter registration and elections. She described the problem as "isolated."

DeKalb resident Craig Bryant said his votes were switched when he voted at the First Iconium Baptist Church in East Atlanta.

"It was infuriating," Bryant said. "I had to go back and double-check every one of my ions. It seems like we spent a lot of money to put machines in place that aren't reliable."

Latimore said in some cases, it was a problem with voters, not machines.

"We've had voters come in and their fingernails are as long as three inches and when they touch [the screen] they are touching more than one box," Latimore said. "It could record for the wrong person."

Jason Schultz, an attorney volunteering with the nonpartisan voting monitor Election Protection, said his group had received 30 to 40 complaints by early afternoon about touch-screens recording incorrect choices in DeKalb, Fulton and Cobb counties.

Most voters told Election Protection they'd tried to vote for a Democrat and ended up with a Republican, Schultz said. Schultz said his group saw no evidence the mistakes were the result of tampering.

Pat Pullar, deputy director of the Georgia Democratic Party, said the group received "numerous calls" of voter irregularities at predominantly black precincts. She said lawyers were called to the war room at party headquarters in downtown Atlanta. Most calls came from voters in DeKalb, Clayton and Fulton counties, Pullar said.

Secretary of state's spokesman Chris Riggall said the office did not hear many complaints of calibration errors outside of DeKalb.

Some precincts experienced other mechanical glitches. A judge ordered voting hours extended at Bethune Middle School in DeKalb because equipment problems delayed the start of voting, according to the secretary of state's office.

At Atlanta's Morningside Elementary School, equipment problems slowed voting to a trickle because poll workers had the use of only one computer to verify voter eligibility. More computers were working by midmorning.

A Chinese delegation was watching as frustrated voters waited in line or left. "As an American it was embarrassing," said Gil Shillcutt, who said he finally voted more than an hour after he arrived. Shillcutt said he saw dozens of people give up and leave before 8 a.m., some saying they hoped to return.

The poll workers said they eventually collected about 50 provisional ballots before the machines got going.

Staff writers Ariel Hart, Heather Vogell, Brian Feagans, Mae Gentry, Tammy Joyner and Stephanie Reid contributed to this article.


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