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Voters Say Diebold E-Pollbooks Crashed During Primary; Official Says They Didn't
By Kim Zetter    Wired Blog   February 12, 2008  

I've been getting a number of reports from voters in Georgia that the electronic pollbooks the state used during last week's Super Tuesday primary crashed in a number of counties, resulting in the long lines that I reported about last week and in voters leaving without casting ballots.

Numerous voters in at least five Georgia counties have complained that there weren't enough e-pollbooks and that the machines crashed or were otherwise inoperable. But an election official in Fulton County, Georgia, where many of the crashes were reported, denied that any machine crashed, and said voters were mistaken. (I've posted some .mp3 files below that come from a voter hotline in which voters discuss crashes and inoperable machines.)

The ExpressPoll e-pollbooks, made by Diebold Election Systems, are used to verify that a voter is registered. (Georgia uses an older model of the ExpressPoll pictured at right.)

Ralph Presley, who voted at a church in Fulton County, said there were about 200 people waiting in line at his precinct and although the church had fourteen voting machines, only two of them were being used at any one time due to a backup caused by problems with the e-pollbooks.

“They were crashing, and then they’d call the technician and wait for the technician to come out,” he told me by phone.

There were only two items on Presley's ballot the presidential primary and a bond referendum and while it took only 30 seconds to cast a ballot, it took 90 minutes to reach the poll booth. Presley said voters had to wait until a technician arrived to re-boot one of the e-pollbooks that was down. It took the machine about five minutes to re-boot, he said.

Maureen Goodman reported that when she arrived at 8:30 am to vote at Inman Middle School in Fulton County, the line was already running the length and a half of the school's gym. Although there were eight voting machines at the gym, only two were being used at any one time. There were only two e-pollbooks in her polling location and she said one of them kept crashing and would take 5-10 minutes to reboot. Poll workers also had trouble finding voters' names in the e-pollbook databases.

“The general feeling in the line was that it was an atrocity,” she said. “In the state where Jimmy Carter is from and is known for election monitoring around the world, we can’t seem to get it right. I found that kind of ironic."

A story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution quoted state election officials acknowledging that they received "isolated" reports about the machines crashing and dispatched technicians in some cases to look into the matter.

Voters who called a hotline on the day of the primary were also certain that the machines were crashing.

But I spoke with Mark Henderson, voter education and public information coordinator for Fulton County, the site of many of the reported crashes, who told me voters were mistaken. Henderson said his county's election office received 72,000 calls on Super Tuesday (slightly higher than previous election days, he said) and not one of them involved a crashed e-pollbook. He also disputed reports that technicians were dispatched to precincts to reboot the devices.

Although he acknowledged that several poll workers called during the primary to report that e-pollbooks were freezing, he said the poll workers were confused and the devices were simply running slow due to the size of the registration database on them. He said that during poll worker training, the devices were loaded with only a small list of about 350 voter names for demonstration purposes so they performed name searches quickly. But on election day, the entire state voter registration list of four and a half million active voters was stored on each device, increasing the time it took the device to find a voter's name, leading poll workers to erroneously conclude that the devices were freezing up.

"But they didn’t crash or shut down completely as reported by pollworkers," he said, adding that during this slowdown "voting never stopped."

When I pointed out that to voters who stood in line for 1 to 3 hours voting did appear to stop, he reiterated, "Voting may have been delayed in some instances but it did not stop."

Henderson acknowledged that there were too few e-pollbooks at precincts and this contributed to the long waits. He said it was the result of poor planning due to lack of experience with the devices. Georgia purchased the e-pollbooks from Diebold in July 2006 and used them for the first time during the mid-term elections that year. That experience didn't prepare the county for Super Tuesday since voter turnout in Fulton County for the 2006 election was only 23 percent, whereas the turnout for the primary this year was 46 percent.

Fulton has 640 ExpressPoll devices and 360 precincts spread out in 251 polling locations (some locations house more than one precinct). Each precinct was given an average of two e-pollbooks. Henderson said his office didn't anticipate the large turnout or the effect that searching through the statewide database would have on the speed of the e-pollbooks. The day after the primary, the election office submitted a request to county commissioners to obtain more e-pollbooks before the county's next election in July.

Below are some additional voter calls complaining about e-pollbooks not working, as well as a videotape of the long line at the Welcome All Community Center in Fulton County.

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