Electronic Voting Has Its Glitches

One of Franklin County's 4,200 iVotronic touch screen voting machines
One of Franklin County's 4,200 iVotronic touch screen voting machines

In spite of problems elsewhere in Franklin County voting in Hilliard’s Precinct 1 has gone most of the day without a hitch.

“We’ve had a couple of little glitches but for the most part it’s gone rather smoothly,” says Eloise McDowell, the presiding judge of Precinct 1′s Ward B. Voting machines for three of the wards have been set up at the Church of Christ near Hilliard’s old downtown, where McDowell says there’s been a slow but steady stream of voters. From what she’s heard McDowell says she thinks the majority of voters are pleased with the new system.

“Some people have said to me, Boy that really was easy.’ And others said, ‘I like the old machine, it’s just fine, why don’t we just keep that?’ A majority of people who have commented to me have been pleased with their experience, McDowell says.

Most of Franklin County’s 4,200 electronic touch screen machines have been put to work for today’s primary. McDowell says a few people, like her husband, would rather vote with the old-time mechanical voting booth which she was introduced to more than 30 years ago. But there may have been something more ‘trustworthy’ about pulling a lever that the new touch screen machine can’t provide.

“I trust that [my vote's] being counted,” says Tyler Argo. But the fact that the tap screen, you know it’s hard to trust that everything’s going where it’s supposed to be going.”

20-year-old Tyler Argo says he’s still a little leery about voting electronically.

“The hackers and everything; the slightest little mechanical glitch can cause unscrupulous things to happen,” Argo says.

About all that he is certain of is that he didn’t cast a ballot for President Bush in the May 2nd primary. But at another location, a Republican said a vote cast for Congresswoman Deborah Pryce registered for Senator Mike DeWine. County Board of Elections director Matt Damschroder said the incident was isolated. He attributed it to a calibration problem.

“That screen has to be calibrated to understand where to recognize the touch and sometimes in transportation, that kind of thing, that calibration can become corrupted,” Damschroder says. “And it’s a very simple process to send a technician out to recalibrate it.”

Damschroder says that the great majority of balloting problems have been the fault of poll workers. Balloting at one-fifth of Franklin County polls failed to begin at the designated 6:30 a.m. start time, because poll workers were convinced they had to obtain a printout from each machine. Damschroder says that meant about 50 people had to leave before they could vote.

“The poll workers were holding voters back from voting until they could finish that last administrative step, even though they could have allowed those people to vote. So there were I’ll bet probably fewer than 50 voters who were negatively impacted,” said Damschroder.

“So the very great majority of things that happened today were really human caused errors and not the fault of the machine?”

“Absolutely. We’ve really experienced no machine malfunctions in terms of machines not booting up properly or not recording votes properly; everything has been an element of human error. Of course we don’t want to sound ‘Pollyanna’ about it. When you’re dealing with elections it’s serious issues. We’re working very hard behind the scenes with our poll workers with training and support to make sure that every voter’s vote is counted and indicated properly.

In Hilliard, the iVotronic machines were quietly recording voters’ choices a far cry from a few years ago when poll workers had to take the backs of huge mechanical machines to tally the precinct results. Even then, says presiding judge Eloise McDowell, it seems something was bound to go wrong.

“The place that we were in was the grange hall for election and about the time we were taking the back off the machines to read the numbers off and have people write them down, in the next room they were calling out Bingo numbers! So it got to be a little interesting,” says McDowell.

Matt Damschroder says he expects at least 120,000 Franklin County voters to cast ballots in the primary.

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