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Machines ‘without brains,' error-riddled ballots delay electronic voting
Anna Mathews, Carroll County News    08 May 2006

BERRYVILLE - “The supplies for an electronic early vote are not going to be here,” said Carroll County Election Commissioner Levi Phillips when meeting with the Election Commission on Tuesday. “We have the 18 machines but the brains are missing.”

Phillips was referring to the new touch screen voting machines and their electronic ballots. At lease one was to be ready for early voting in the preferential primary beginning Monday.

Phillips also noted his displeasure when discovering that the ballot proofs prepared by the states' new electronic equipment provider were incorrect.

“It's like they threw a muffin in the air and let the pieces fall wherever,” he said of the ballot errors.

All justice of the peace and constable races were lumped together and there was a disregard for ballot positions in other races.

With the proofs wrong, Phillips said there was no time to have corrections made and have the Personal Electronic Ballot (PEB) programmed by Monday for use in the one touch screen voting machine.

Phillips suggested the commission order enough paper ballots for the entire primary election from local printer, David Bell, with Braswell Printing. A motion was made and the order approved.

“That will solve our voting for Carroll County,” Phillips said.

Some 60 other counties across the state have encountered similar problems with the new electronic voting system and will not be offering touch screen machines for early voting in the primary.

Phillips said Carroll County voters will use paper ballots for early voting.

However, he said they can use the new touch screen voting machines on election day, May 23, “provided we get all the equipment in time,” he said.

The 18 handicapped-accessible touch screens, one for each polling place, are here, but they are missing their PEBs (the brains), which must be programmed with the correct ballot information by the equipment provider, Election Systems & Software (ES&S).

Rob Hammons, with the Secretary of State's Office, demonstrated the use of a touch screen voting machine to election officials and poll workers.

Hammons said an ES&S representative will arrive before the primary to make sure the PEBs are correct.

He also noted that voters will have three opportunities to use the machines before the November election. “In the primary, the run-off and in the school election,” he explained.

Hammons said voters will be asked to “do everything twice” when voting touch screen, similar to “are you sure” prompts on computers. Also, voters are asked to review their completed ballot before casting. Changes can be made along the way or during the review process.

In the case of a write-in candidate, Hammons said the voter touches the write-in option and a typewriter appears on the screen so the voter can type in the candidates name.

He said poll workers must run a “zero” vote paper tape before polls open, and change the paper tape as required throughout the day.

He said the 300-foot roll of tape could handle 150 votes between paper changes.

That figure was considerably different from what election workers said they were told during a previous training. “At the class, they told us every 700 votes,” a poll worker recalled.

Hammons said the machines come with a six-hour battery back-up and a communications pack with printer.

Also, the 18 handicapped accessible machines that the county now has, have an audio option with headphones.

Hammons said poll workers should be aware that voters who use the audio option will spend 15 to 20 minutes at the machine. “It's a long process to have the machine read the instructions and the entire ballot,” he explained.

All voters are welcome to use the handicapped accessible machines, he said, but disabled individuals are to be moved to the front of the line.

Hammons covered several other topics and used a secret method to trick the machine into thinking it was 7:30 p.m. on election day so he could demonstrate closing procedures.

He also said step-by-step instructions were available on-line at www.votenaturally.org.

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