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Voting Is a Touchy Business   (WV)

JOSELYN KING    Wheeling News-Register    21 October 2008

WHEELING - Dru Kusic has never felt more disenfranchised as a voter than she did last Friday.

While taking advantage of early voting at the City-County Building in Wheeling, Kusic noticed that the electronic vote she cast for her chosen presidential candidate was wrong.

She attempted to fix her vote, but the same thing happened again - the vote was credited to the other candidate, even though she says she touched her candidate's name on the voting screen.

The problem soon was fixed, with Kusic being able to cast a vote for her desired candidate. However, the entire situation has left her frustrated.

"I felt so unempowered - like my vote was taken from me," she said.

Other incidents of electronic votes jumping to another candidate also have been recorded in Jackson and Putnam counties in West Virginia. That has prompted local and state elections officials to remind voters to check and re-check their ballots before finalizing their ions.

West Virginia Secretary of State Betty Ireland on Monday also directed Ohio County officials to recalibrate the eight touchscreen machines presently being used for early voting in the county. The same is being done in other counties in the state.

Ireland said she knows of no incident where a voter was not able to cast a ballot containing all their intended choices. She assured there was no intent to disenfranchise any voters.

"We are really sorry that voters are having a problem, but there is no conspiracy," Ireland said. "Our county clerks have been working hard, and all the machines have been tested."

Ireland said that touchscreen voting machines are programmed to read pressure points on the screen. Problems occur when the machine is moved on jostled, affecting the calibration.

In other cases, the voter may have touched not the candidate's name, but a nearby line - and this confuses the machines, according to Ireland.

"These are highly sensitive machines," she said. "If there is a problem, the voter needs to call the poll worker over."

Voters have three opportunities to check that the vote ion they've touched has been recorded before they submit their ballot.

    * When a voter touches the screen to choose a candidate, the candidate's name then lights up and a check mark appears beside it.

If this is not the voter's intended ion, they should touch the incorrectly lighted name to clear the ion. Next, a voter should re-touch the name of the candidate they are choosing. If this doesn't work, the voter should continue to try until it does.

    * As voters make their ions, they should be aware of the cash register-type tape at the bottom, left corner of the voting device. The name of each candidate ed by the voter is printed out on the tape, and if this name is incorrect the voter needs to go back and check their ion on the screen.

Again, touching the lighted name clears the earlier vote in the race.

The tape also indicates when a vote has been canceled and shows the next choice the voter enters.

    * When the voter has completed all ions on their ballot, the screen will show a review of all the ion they have made. The voter should read through this to make sure all are correct before pushing the button to cast their ballot.

"The voter needs to watch what he or she is doing so that they vote for the right person," Ohio County Elections Coordinator Toni Chieffalo said. "And they should review their choices before casting their ballot.

"If there is a problem with one of machines, they should let a poll worker know," she added.

Ireland noted that election season is a stressful time for all involved, particularly in 2008. "Everybody needs to be part of the team if we are to have clean and fair elections," she said.

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