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Voters cause some machines to falter (PA)
Bucks County Courier Times. May 21, 2009. By: JENNA PORTNOY, The Intelligencer

Bucks County voters who tried to write in the names of candidates not on the primary ballot Tuesday caused machines to falter - same as they did in the primary two years ago.

A red flashing button must be pressed to reveal the write-in window. Instead, some voters tried to force the shutter open manually or with a pencil, wrote names on the face of the machine itself or stuck paper slips in the slot.

"It's not complicated. Instructions are in upper left inside the machine," said Elections Director Deena Dean. "There are various things they do that the machine does not like and therefore it causes an error."

The aftermath of the election also highlighted difficulties staffing the polls and a weakness in the reporting of election results online.

Commissioner Jim Cawley, who is chairman of the county's board of elections, said write-in votes were problematic even in the days of the old lever machines. It's up to candidates mounting write-in campaigns - as well as the county - to educate voters, he said. The write-in issues did not mar an otherwise smooth election, he said.

"The message of (Tuesday) is that things went pretty well," he said. "Can we get better? Yes. But things went well."

In most cases, Dean said, workers at the county warehouse could walk poll workers through the procedure to reset the machines over the phone. But at the end of the day when workers tried to print paper tapes that record all votes, earlier write-in snafus caused paper jams.

The elections office keeps track of all the calls received during the primary, but Dean said she won't know which ones pertained to write-in and paper jam problems for another two weeks or so.

In the 2007 primary, machines had to be reset on 37 occasions due to problems with write-in votes.

The problems did not affect the count Tuesday or two years ago because the tapes do not count votes independently. Cartridges in the machine record the votes and more copies of the paper tapes can be printed at any time, Dean said.

Starting Tuesday, her staff will begin to tally the write-in votes, but there's no telling how long what will take.

"It really depends how many problems we run into," she said. "We don't know what we're going to encounter."

Although there were likely significant numbers of write-in votes cast, the overall turnout was low and did not factor into a problem with the Web site the public relies on to see real-time results.

For about an hour Tuesday night one of two servers the county rents through a subcontractor of King of Prussia-based Perfexion went down. Another client of the subcontractor may have left an application running that crowded the system, said chief information officer Don Jacobs.

"They shut down both severs and cleared everything, and we were off to the races," he said.

In the meantime, county staff read results to callers and public computers at the courthouse displayed the data.

"The good news is all the redundancies and backup systems that we put in place worked," said spokeswoman Stacey Hajdak.

Staffing the county's 307 polling places continues to be a problem.

"This election we had many resignations and it was really a struggle to find people who wanted to work whereas last year everyone wanted to work because they wanted to be part of the presidential election," Dean said.

This was the first year her office asked judges of election to post a sign up sheet to recruit workers. Teens are also welcome with permission from their parents and school, although she said scheduling them is time-consuming.

"It's a great idea and we love to have high school students because they enjoy working, but it is quite a bit of work to finalize everything with them," Dean said. (Anyone interested in working the polls can call 215-348-6163.)

Every election commissioner gives Dean the authority to accept majority and minority machine inspectors recommended by committeepeople. If committeepeople don't come up with any names, Dean said the onus falls to judges of election.

"They can always take the initiative to call and ask if anyone has been appointed and we're glad to tell them," she said.

Also Tuesday, advocates from the Coalition for Voting Integrity reiterated its call for the county to create a committee to review elections and make suggestions.

Before he takes a stance on the issue, Cawley said he wants to sit down with Dean to discuss staffing and write-in issues.

The next board of elections meeting is set for 11 a.m. Tuesday.

Jenna Portnoy can be reached at 215-345-3060 or jportnoy@phillyBurbs.com.

A Quakertown school board incumbent may have lost his seat to a write-in candidate. Page?

Women were the top vote-getters in Tuesday's primary for each party's seven Montgomery County judge nominations. Page?

Steven Toy defeated Councilor Katherine M. Grubb in Souderton's Ward 2's Republican primary. Page?

Jim Nietupski believes he was able to overtake incumbent Dave Nyman in the Republican primary for East Rockhill supervisor because his constituents are "fed up" with the status quo. Page?

Voter turnout by percent

Republicans 14

Democrats 10.2

Total 12.1

Source: Bucks County Board of Elections

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