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US: Early-voting problems in Putnam: Touch-screen votes switched, then corrected

by Paul J. NydenThe Charleston Gazette
October 21st, 2008

Two more Putnam County voters - Martha Louise Harrington and Michael K. Koon - have come forward about problems they experienced on early-voting electronic machines at the Winfield courthouse.

Last week, other early voters in Jackson and Putnam counties said touch-screen voting machines changed their votes after they tried to punch them in.

Harrington, a retired home health worker who lives in Hurricane, said, "I was very cautious to put my fingernail in the middle of the square. I hit it in the square to vote for Obama. Immediately, it went to McCain.

"A Putnam County poll worker, who seemed very knowledgeable, told me to hit the McCain button to erase it. Then you start over. My next vote held. I think a lot of people, especially elderly people, are not going to catch that.

"I have talked to people who said the same thing happened them when the voted for [Governor Joe] Manchin," Harrington said on Monday. "I hope this publicity makes the public more aware of what is going."

Deputy Secretary of State Sarah Bailey said 21,194 West Virginians had already cast early votes by Friday.

"Early voting becomes more popular every year," she said. "All the voting systems [in West Virginia] are manufactured by ES&S."

Election Systems and Software, a company based in Omaha, Neb., has faced problems and controversies in other states.

In California, for example, Secretary of State Debra Brown issued a legal order on Aug. 3, 2007, banning the use of ES&S machines in any future California election.

Ken Fields, an ES&S spokesman in St. Louis, did not return a telephone call to his office on Monday.

Koon said he had no problem casting an early vote for president.

"However, when I chose Jay Rockefeller - and there is at least a finger's distance between the two choices - it selected Jay Wolfe and printed his name on the receipt.

"I pushed Jay Rockefeller again a few times and it canceled Jay Wolfe. Then I chose Jay Rockefeller again and it verified it."

Koon believes voting machines at the Putnam County Courthouse need to be "calibrated."

Judy Jett, another Putnam County early voter, had a positive experience.

"I hit the review button to make sure the ones I voted for were marked. No problem, all of them were correct. I absolutely love the electronic voting machines. They are so easy," Jett stated in an e-mail to the Gazette.

Nick Casey, chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party, said, "We have already made some outreach to county clerks and the secretary of state's office, sharing our concern there may be something wrong with the machines.

"We are not criticizing them. We are just concerned about it, especially once machines get out to the polling places.

"Touch screens in Putnam County have a certain delay. If your 'x' does not pop up, and you punch it again, it goes away. There is a delay from the time you punch it to the time when your vote is recorded," Casey said.

Bailey said, "We have outreach programs in every county. Employees go around to schools, nursing homes and other venues for voter education. These machines are nationally certified. They are tested by independent labs and certified."

Nineteen counties, including Kanawha County, use optical- scan voting machines. The others use touch-screen machines, Bailey said, except for Braxton and Wyoming counties, which still use paper ballots.

Koon also said he asked for a paper copy of his ballot to verify his votes.

Putnam County Circuit Clerk Brian Wood said, "You don't get anything in your hand saying you voted. Touch screen machines, which have a reel-to-reel paper train, are all self-contained.

"We don't print ballots out because we don't want people going down the street and have someone give them $20 or a pint of whiskey to buy votes.

"It is more of a safety feature than to keep them from having a paper ballot in their hand," Wood said on Monday. "We all want voters to confirm their votes before they cast them."




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