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Machine Problems Frustrate Early Voters   (TN)

Jennifer Clendenion   Decatur County Chronicle   22 October 2008

Several Decatur County voters are concerned about problems with the voting machines at the Election Commission Office. Voters claim they tried to vote for McCain for President but the machine checked Obama instead.
At least three voters encountered the problem when casting their early ballot on Saturday morning. Franklin Boroughs says he intended to vote for Republican but rather the computer had checked the Democratic candidate instead.
Wanda and Barney Blasingim similarly said they tried to vote for McCain but the machine switched the vote.
“I noticed the problem immediately,” Wanda said Monday. She says she touched the “button” for McCain a second time and the problem was corrected. Her husband said he asked for assistance from election workers and was told the error sometimes occurs when a person’s finger touches close to the line of the box the candidate’s name is in.
While Blasingim maintains that his finger was not on the line, Election Commissioner Rick Box said the trouble may be that when a person is standing in front of the machine, it may appear their finger is poised over one button but it is actually closer to the button above.
“The way the machine is set up, when you are standing in front of it and seeing it at a certain angle, it looks like you are touching the middle (of the button) when you are actually touching the line above it,” Box said.
Box and fellow Election Commissioner Grafton Dodd tested the machines on Monday. Dodd could not be reached for comment but Box said he found the area of the screen where the buttons for President are located are extremely close together. He blames the problem in part on poor design by software programmers, and adds that there may be sensitivity issues with the screen itself.
Election Registrar Irene Campbell disagrees. She said there was no problem with the machines, though at the urging of state officials machine technicians were called in late Monday afternoon to investigate the problem. Technician Terry VanEaton from Way Point Wireless pointed out that there are ways that this technology can be improved by enhancing ballot design. But they currently function as they have in prior elections.
Box said although there are opportunities to review your choices before finalizing your vote his main concern is that elderly people or those who are in a hurry might accidentally vote for the wrong candidate. “We need to be sure that everything possible is done so that people are voting for who they wanted to vote for,” he said.
Campbell said pointer devices are available to voters who wish to use them rather than touch the screen with their fingers. She added that no other problems have been reported with the voting machines.
Though problems may be few and far between in Decatur County, some wish to go back to paper ballots.
“We should go back to voting the way we used to and forget about these machines,” Blasingim commented.
This is the last year the electronic voting machines will be used, according to Box. For the next election, precinct-based optical scanners will read voter’s ballots and then print out the results.
In the meantime, voters are urged to review their ions on the ballot prior to finalizing their vote. “Check your ballot very carefully before submitting it”, cautioned Box. If a problem is encountered, do not hesitate to ask election officials for assistance before leaving the voting booth.
Decatur County is not the only one to experience problems with voting machines. Voters in West Virginia claimed last week that machines in two counties were reportedly switching votes from Obama to McCain. That problem was possibly caused by a calibration error, according to reports. Optical scan ballots are already available in West Virginia. Voters in Putnam County have a choice whether to use them or the touch screen voting machines.
So far, a record number of voters have cast ballots in Decatur County. As of Saturday, 724 residents have voted. Voters have until October 30 to cast early ballots before the general election is held on November 4.

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