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Posted: 10/30/2006 3:25:05 PM EST
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"Early voters are urged to cast their ballots with care following scattered reports of problems with heavily used machines.
BY CHARLES RABIN AND DARRAN SIMON
dsimon@MiamiHerald.com

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After a week of early voting, a handful of glitches with electronic voting machines have drawn the ire of voters, reassurances from elections supervisors -- and a caution against the careless casting of ballots.

Several South Florida voters say the choices they touched on the electronic screens were not the ones that appeared on the review screen -- the final voting step.

Election officials say they aren't aware of any serious voting issues. But in Broward County, for example, they don't know how widespread the machine problems are because there's no process for poll workers to quickly report minor issues and no central database of machine problems.

In Miami-Dade, incidents are logged and reported daily and recorded in a central database. Problem machines are shut down.

''In the past, Miami-Dade County would send someone to correct the machine on site,'' said Lester Sola, county supervisor of elections. Now, he said, ``We close the machine down and put a seal on it.''

Debra A. Reed voted with her boss on Wednesday at African-American Research Library and Cultural Center near Fort Lauderdale. Her vote went smoothly, but boss Gary Rudolf called her over to look at what was happening on his machine. He touched the screen for gubernatorial candidate Jim Davis, a Democrat, but the review screen repeatedly registered the Republican, Charlie Crist.

That's exactly the kind of problem that sends conspiracy theorists into high gear -- especially in South Florida, where a history of problems at the polls have made voters particularly skittish.

A poll worker then helped Rudolf, but it took three tries to get it right, Reed said.

''I'm shocked because I really want . . . to trust that the issues with irregularities with voting machines have been resolved,'' said Reed, a paralegal. ``It worries me because the races are so close.''

Broward Supervisor of Elections spokeswoman Mary Cooney said it's not uncommon for screens on heavily used machines to slip out of sync, making votes register incorrectly. Poll workers are trained to recalibrate them on the spot -- essentially, to realign the video screen with the electronics inside. The 15-step process is outlined in the poll-workers manual.

''It is resolved right there at the early-voting site,'' Cooney said.

Broward poll workers keep a log of all maintenance done on machines at each site. But the Supervisor of Elections office doesn't see that log until the early voting period ends. And a machine isn't taken out of service unless the poll clerk decides it's a chronic poor performer that can't be fixed.

Cooney said no machines have been removed during early voting, and she is not aware of any serious problems.

In Miami-Dade, two machines have been taken out of service during early voting. No votes were lost, Sola said.

Joan Marek, 60, a Democrat from Hollywood, was also stunned to see Charlie Crist on her ballot review page after voting on Thursday. ''Am I on the voting screen again?'' she wondered. ``Well, this is too weird.''

Marek corrected her ballot and alerted poll workers at the Hollywood satellite courthouse, who she said told her they'd had previous problems with the same machine.

Poll workers did some work on her machine when she finished voting, Marek said. But no report was made to the Supervisor of Elections office and the machine was not removed, Cooney said.

Workers at the Hollywood poll said there had been no voting problems on Friday.

Mauricio Raponi wanted to vote for Democrats across the board at the Lemon City Library in Miami on Thursday. But each time he hit the button next to the candidate, the Republican choice showed up. Raponi, 53, persevered until the machine worked. Then he alerted a poll worker."
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