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For primary, vote scanners fixed in the nick of time (WA)
Queen Anne & Magnolia News. September 3, 2009. By Glenn Avery
Original: http://www.queenannenews.com/main.asp?Search=1&ArticleID=28995&SectionID=26&SubSectionID=248&S=1

Chelan County Auditor, Evelyn Arnold, is the new King County Superintendent of Elections according to Sherril Huff, Elections Director. The position has been vacant since 2007 when Bill Huennekens, a central figure in the 2004 election scandal, was given other duties.

The spokesman for Initiative 25, Toby Nixon said, "I think she will do a great job as Superintendent of Elections." Initiative 25 made the director's position an elective office rather than an appointed position.

Arnold will have her hands full as King County Election Department tries to get its new Premier scanners running properly before the November election. The equipment failed to correctly read ballots in the August Primary. The problem was caught and procedures put in place to compensate for it, avoiding serious consequences. If less than two percent of the votes cast in the race for Seattle mayor had not been read, the outcome could have changed.

A few days into processing ballots for the August Primary, a King County Elections worker compared an actual ballot to its scanned image and noticed that a vote, clearly visible on the ballot, was not shown on the scanned image.

As election workers began exploring what went wrong, two problems emerged. First it was found that the scanners could not read ovals that were lightly filled or not completely filled in. Then it was discovered that minuscule amounts of ink and debris were being scrubbed off as ballots passed over the scanner. This debris would build up until the scanner could no longer see the votes under the line of built-up ink, even though the build-up not visible to the eye.

Department officials decided to zero out, or erase, all data collected to that point and re-scan all ballots. They ordered more frequent equipment cleanings and operators were told to look at scanned images at the end of each batch in hopes of catching problems. Then the scanners were set to kick out any ballot with an undervoted race, or races with no votes for any candidate. Those ballots went to "adjudication." In the adjudication process two elections workers at a computer station compare the original ballot to the scanned image, correcting the image if needed. Prior to the first tabulation on election night, more than 80,000 of the approximately 182,000 ballots processed had been through adjudication.

Under state law, tabulation cannot begin until Election Day. The scanners, which capture the image but do not add up the votes, allow Election Department workers to begin processing ballots as soon as they are qualified to be counted, a process that involves signature verification and other steps.

This, it was thought by elections officials, would even-out the workflow and prevent that big backlog of ballots to be processed on Election Day. Votes captured in the scanning are not counted until a special keycard, held in a sealed pouch, is ed in the computer controlling the main server for the scanning operation.

At about 7:45 p.m. on August 18, with witnesses present, that keycard was removed from the pouch and tabulation began. Shortly after 8 p.m., director Huff examined a printout of the results, signed it, and a few minutes later the results from about 182,000 ballots were online for everyone to see. Observers from both the Democrats and Republicans on the scene agreed that a large turnout, such as that of last November, would be difficult for the Elections Department to handle until faults in the new equipment are corrected.

Testing and installation of the Premier scanners is under the direction of Bill Huennekens who claimed that the machines had previously undergone stress tests, including a 1 million vote mock election. The scanning problem, quickly found in this low-turnout Primary, was not discovered in testing.

The Elections Department opted to purchase the scanners rather than lease them. Director Huff says Premier will not receive final payment for the machines until the problem is fixed. At this time Huennekens remains in charge of the testing and implementation.

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