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Super Tuesday Saw Few Problems With Voting Machines  (AR)

John Lyon   THE MORNING NEWS    10 February 2008

LITTLE ROCK - Poll workers across the state reported fewer problems with touch-screen voting and optical scanning machines in Tuesday's presidential primary elections than in any previous election since the machines debuted nearly two years ago, the secretary of state's office says.

"It was a remarkably smooth election, considering especially the weather events late in the day," said Natasha Naragon, spokeswoman for Secretary of State Charlie Daniels.

Storms killed 13 people in Arkansas on Tuesday and caused widespread damage. Some polling places closed up to 90 minutes early because of the severe weather.

Election workers made 80 calls Tuesday to the technical support line of Election Systems & Software, the Omaha, Neb.-based company that received a $15 million contract to provide the state with election equipment.

Most of the calls consisted of procedural questions answered over the phone, Naragon said. On-site support was provided in 20 counties.

Naragon said the number of calls was "remarkably low," considering ES&S touch-screen and optical scanning machines were in use at all 1,713 of the state's polling places. She said the number of calls was higher in previous elections, though she did not have an exact count.

Printer malfunctions and errors by poll workers accounted for many of the problems cropping up Tuesday.

In Benton County, workers had difficulty getting two touch-screen machines up and running when polls opened.

"There's a process that you have to go through, and some people could not remember for sure and they forgot their instructions, so we had to talk them through it," Benton County Election Coordinator Jim McCarthy said.

Voters used paper ballots until the touch-screen machines were operational, McCarthy said.

Voters at one polling site in Pulaski County were asked to use touch-screen machines after workers ran out of some of the paper ballots. Then a power outage caused the touch-screen machines to shut down.

The machines had backup batteries, but workers were not aware they had to press a reset button to power the batteries, said Susan Inman, director of the Pulaski County Election Commission.

Power was restored after a voter brought a generator to the polling site. Some voters had to wait up to 15 minutes before they could cast a ballot, Inman said.

An internal part in a voting machine in Garland County had to be replaced during voting Tuesday. Also, two machines were not ready to accept votes when polls opened because they had not been properly "zeroed out" after they were tested, said Charles Tapp, chairman of the Garland County Election Commission.

No one was prevented from voting, according to Tapp.

"Where we had trouble with touch-screens, we had paper ballots to fall back on," he said.

A touch-screen machine in Faulkner County was taken out of service Tuesday after it was discovered its printer, which was supposed to produce a paper record of every vote, was not working properly.

All 21 votes cast on the machine were counted, Faulkner County Election Commission Chairman Bruce Haggard said.

"When we took the data off of the hard drive, we could get a paper trail that verified what that printer was supposed to have printed," he said.

Haggard said the touch-screen machines are highly accurate but prone to breakdowns, which can be frustrating for poll workers and voters alike. He said he hopes the next generation of machines will be more reliable.

"I think the voters have a lot of skepticism about them, and for good reason," he said. "When they see machines break down, they don't know about audit logs and the fact that we can actually get that vote and we have confidence in the accuracy of it. They see only the problems, and they don't realize that there's actually more accuracy and less fraud with voting machines than there can be with paper ballots."

Some counties were several days late in tabulating results, and by 5 p.m. Friday election results in Craighead County were still not tabulated. Naragon said Tuesday's storms were responsible for the delays.

According to preliminary, incomplete results, voter participation in the presidential primary was as high as 46 percent in Clark and Madison counties and as low as 21 percent in Crittenden County, for an average of 33 percent, Naragon said. The total number of people who voted probably was around 520,000, she said.

About 22 percent of registered voters turned out for the statewide primary election in May 2004, an election that included several races. Tuesday's primary elections were limited to the presidential race.

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