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Election smooth despite glitches
CentreDaily.Com By Anne Danahy  08 November 2006

Thank goodness for the paper clip at the Corl Street Elementary voting precinct.

That's what poll workers used to reset a voting machine that wouldn't start properly as voters lined up to cast their ballots Tuesday morning.

"We were trying to get it right at the cost of delaying the process," explained David Beyerle, judge of elections at State College West 1.

Beyerle said voting there began about 7:30 a.m., or a half-hour late. A handful of other precincts in Centre County and Pennsylvania experienced similar problems, as poll workers struggled to get new voting equipment to cooperate.

Still, voting was uneventful in many precincts, and voters were turning out in greater numbers than is typical for a midterm election. Several precincts were reporting turnout of 50 percent or better in a few cases more than 60 percent compared with 46 percent of county voters who cast ballots in 2002.

Pennsylvania Department of State officials said similar problems were reported across the state as many counties, like Centre County, introduced new voting systems. Polls in Lancaster and Lebanon counties were ordered to remain open an extra hour Tuesday evening because of problems at the start of the day.

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

In Centre County, touch-screen voting machines replaced the punch-card ballots of the past. The change was made to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act, intended to address problems like those experienced in Florida in 2000.

"Overall, the experience has been good," said Pennsylvania Secretary of State Pedro Cortes.

Still, some in Centre County have expressed frustration with the touch-screen machines' lack of voter verified paper trail. And Tuesday, other frustrations surfaced.

Jim Colbert and his wife went to vote about 7:15 a.m. in Bellefonte but were told the computer was down and no one knew when a technician would get there to fix the problem.

"It just frustrated me because I really should be at work later than 5 tonight, but I'm going to be leaving at 5 to make sure I vote," Colbert said.

Centre County Board of Commissioners Chairman Chris Exarchos said that, on the whole, voting went very well. He said six to eight precincts had problems printing zero tapes the print-out that shows no votes have been cast before voting begins.

Exarchos said if he had to identify a weakness in the machines, it would be that a voter could walk away before taking the final step confirming their vote needed to cast a ballot. He said the county will look at that closely.

Precincts in Ferguson Township, Bellefonte and College Township were among those experiencing zero-tape problems. Those problems led to some delays, but poll workers said no ballots had been lost in the process.

A machine in Halfmoon Township was replaced and one in Taylor Township was closed after unsubstantiated reports that the machine would only vote for Gov. Ed Rendell. Reported voting-machine glitches also included a machine in a Rush Township precinct that, according to one voter, refused to accept a Rendell vote.

At Corl Street, Beyerle said the first two machines started fine, but the third one did not. He couldn't get through to the Office of Elections, and using the two working machines would have meant starting voting without a zero tape which was printed from the malfunctioning machine. The polling station did hear from the Office of Elections and started with the two working machines. When the third one was started about 8 a.m., the zero tape was printed.

Paul Barsom, a Corl Street Elementary voter, said the problems there didn't inspire confidence in the system. He also questioned the privacy of the voting machines.

But many voters seemed happy with the new touch-screen machines, commenting on how easy they were to use.

"I thought it worked really well," said Alicia Anderson, of Lemont. "I was a little worried."

Anne Danahy can be reached at 231-4648. The Associated Press and CDT reporters Adam Smeltz and Jennifer Thomas contributed to this report.


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