November 7, 2006 6:00 PM PST
A sampling of e-voting glitches on election day 2006
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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."
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."