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Scott County voting problems blamed on software upgrade
By Clifford Jeffery, timesnews.net. 11/08/2007
GATE CITY — A software glitch brought voting in Scott County to a standstill Tuesday morning.

Election workers set up the voting machines Tuesday with a long day ahead of them. More than 40 candidates were on Tuesday’s ballot, and when the county’s new voting machines showed error messages one after the other as they were turned on, workers had to begin resorting to paper ballots that would be counted by hand at the end of the night.

A technician from Atlantic Election Services Inc. rushed to Scott County, where precinct after precinct reported machines that wouldn’t work.

Of the 45 machines in Scott County, more than 30 were probably down, said AES President Spooner Hull.

“The problem they were experiencing, they were operating with an incorrect firmware package,” Hull said.

The machines — bought by the county in 2005 — work fine, Hull said. It was a software glitch.

Hull explained that the software used in the voting machines was upgraded by the state.

The upgrade did not really enhance the performance of the machine in any way, Hull said. The only noticeable difference was a larger font, making names and instructions easier to read.

Hull said he made the upgrade to the machines himself.

But after making the upgrade, Hull was supposed to power down the machines and power them back up. By missing that step, which Hull said would have taken about three seconds per machine, almost all of Scott County’s voting machines did not work right when set up on Election Day.

The instructions from the firmware manufacturer did not include that extra step, Hull said. And when he ran a pre-election test on the machines, they all passed with flying colors.

The error would come out the next time the machines were turned on, he said.

“There was nothing wrong with the machines, or with the way the election workers in Scott County set them up,” he said. “After loading the new firmware I was supposed to do a system reset and power the machine off, then power it up, and then program it. I didn’t do that. I installed the new firmware upgrade and simply re-burned the cartridges and put them in the machines for this election. Because of that, they didn’t work.”

The same situation will not happen again because the firmware is already up to the standard, he said.

One of Hull’s staff began the process of fixing the glitch on Tuesday morning, getting one or two machines working at each precinct.

It took 15 to 20 minutes per machine for him to do that, Hull said. Each machine required software changes, as well as a diagnostic check that took about 12 minutes.

The AES technician spent about six hours working on the machines.

Although there were several hundred handwritten ballets processed by county election workers, General Registrar Willie Mae Kilgore said Thursday that the results of the election are being certified with no significant changes.


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