A sampling of e-voting glitches on election day 2006

Plenty of problems with electronic voting machines are reported, ranging from trivial to worrisome.

Tech Industry
There were plenty of glitches in electronic voting machines during Tuesday's election. But how many were serious ones?

It's too early to tell. Most of the reports so far describe inconveniences, long lines and other hassles rather than anything more serious. (And of course vote fraud has a long and sordid history of occurring without computers.)

But what we do know is that the security and reliability of e-voting machines matters more than ever before. About 39 percent of voters were expected to cast their ballots on Tuesday using electronic voting machines. Another 49 percent of voters are expected to use optical-scan voting equipment, which uses computers to tabulate paper ballots in a manner similar to standardized tests.

Following is a roundup of some of Tuesday's highlights:

Won't start up: Problems with booting up electronic voting machines forced some precincts to "revert to paper ballots," the Salt Lake Tribune reported. Specifically: "Voter Robert Nelson spent 90 minutes hoping poll workers could fix the problem so he could vote, but ultimately gave up waiting. 'The workers were earnestly trying to get the machines to work, but not a one in our precinct worked,' Nelson said. 'I work in Salt Lake City, so I couldn't wait for the machines to work.'"

Won't stay up: Florida's Broward County, which switched to touch-screen machines after the 2000 election debacle, found out that the new systems are hardly perfect, the Miami Herald said. "The problem, according to Broward Supervisor of Elections spokeswoman Mary Cooney, was a voting system technician who activated machines at one precinct with the cartridge for the other...The mistake caused the machines to shut down."

The Allentown Morning Call reported that Michael Young smashed the screen of one of the electronic voting machines with a cat paperweight and was subsequently arrested by police.

Buggy 'start' cards: Cards that activate e-voting machines were buggy, the Indianapolis Star reported. "Blue start cards that activate the push-button machines for voters were programmed incorrectly by MicroVote General Corp., the company that installed software in 47 Indiana counties."

Buggy voters: The state's experiment with switching to e-voting machines prompted one apparently deranged Allentown, Pa., resident to go on the attack. The Allentown Morning Call reported that Michael Young smashed the screen of one of the electronic voting machines with a metal cat paperweight and was subsequently arrested by police.

Defaults to Democrats: The software industry has long known that defaults are important. New Jersey Republicans learned the same thing after the name of Robert Menendez, a Democrat, was allegedly highlighted by default. Voters had to manually de-select Menendez to vote Republican, The New York Times reported. One Republican lawyer told the paper: "We're not sure exactly what the cause of it is...but it's become too widespread to believe it's a coincidence."

Or has completely wrong defaults: A handful of votes in a Connecticut precinct--just 28--won't be counted because of e-voting glitches, the Hartford Courant reported. They're "null because two voting machines listed the wrong candidates for that seat at a Farmington Avenue polling place."

Or never got delivered at all: Former Rep. Tom DeLay, the disgraced Texas Republican, left behind a rare open congressional seat. But in that Texas district, according to the Houston Chronicle, "poll workers discovered that the wrong electronic machines had been delivered in at least four precincts, delaying dozens of voters and causing an undetermined number to vote in the wrong state Senate race."

Chirps like a cricket: In one elementary school near Columbus, Ohio, three of the five voting machines malfunctioned, the Columbus Dispatch reported. But what's better is this description of the problems at a nearby high school: "Two of precinct 4-B's five machines were not working, according to Margaret Park, a poll worker with 20 years of experience. A printer failed to work on one machine. 'This one is chirping like a cricket,' she said of another defective machine."

Humans are dumb: At least some glitches are easier to fix than others. The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that precinct workers were puzzled about why their computers weren't working. "You need to plug them in," a technician patiently explained. "They were running them on battery power."

Humans are lazy: A polling location in Oklahoma opened late because an election inspector overslept, according to The Oklahoman.

The age factor: The average age of poll workers in Indianapolis is 72. That caused problems when hooking things up on Tuesday morning, the Washington Post said: "Some older poll workers Marion County Clerk Doris Anne Sadler said, were unable to hook up cables between optical scan voting machines and new touch-screen models for people with physical disabilities. She compared the task to connecting a printer and mouse to a laptop computer."

Server problems: Colorado: State officials told us that the problems with its e-voting machines were primarily human error. But the Denver Post reports that the story doesn't end there: "Denver Election Commission spokesman Alton Dillard II said the system's 'e poll book' laptop computers--which are used to verify each voter--were bogged down early in the day, forcing election judges to manually call other election officials by telephone to certify the voters. The system became so bogged down by 1 p.m. that election officials were forced to shut down the computers and reboot them, Dillard said."

Web site problems: In Michigan, the Web site for Republican Senate candidate Mike Bouchard was shut down after being hacked, Fox News reported. At least one election commission Web site also had problems.

Low-tech problems: It was the lack of special pens to mark paper ballots that frustrated election officials, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune.

Statistic of the day: "By late afternoon, the Election Protection Coalition phone bank in Washington, D.C., said it had received 13,500 calls to complain about voting problems, but that only about 20 percent represented serious problems," according to MSNBC.com.

Second-best quote of the day: Former Mayor Robert Lankford reported a minor problem, according to a report in Tennessee's Gallatin News Examiner. "Somebody called in and complained that I told them how to vote," Lankford said. "I am not dumb enough to tell people how to vote."

Quote of the day: "We got five machines--one of them's got to work," said Willette Scullank, a trouble-shooter from the Cuyahoga County elections board, courtesy of the Associated Press.

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