November 7, 2006 3:07 PM PST

E-voting glitches disrupt election day

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Even some political insiders reportedly were snagged by voting glitches: Incumbent Rep. Jean Schmidt, an Ohio Republican, found out that her paper ballot was rejected by a voting machine. Chelsea Clinton was not listed in a book of registered voters in New York City, her mother, Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton, told The New York Times.

Daniel Tokaji, an assistant law professor at Ohio State University, said the preliminary reports indicated "hiccups" rather than endemic problems.

"The volume is about what you'd expect in an election where so many are using new technology for the first time," Tokaji said. "Inevitably there will be hiccups when such a major change is made to the election ecosystem."

Other states saw smaller-scale glitches that officials described as minor. New Jersey Division of Elections spokesman Jeff Lam said he had received reports of "scattered" problems affecting about a dozen machines in the entire state. "There's nothing systemic in terms of a particular machine having problems or a large number of specific machines," he said.

Vote 'calibration' raises hackles
Maryland, for one, had taken heat from election watchdogs--and even its Republican governor--for perceived problems with its Diebold touch-screen systems. The state also attracted negative attention during September's primary elections, when cards needed to operate the machines did not arrive at certain precincts in time for the polls' scheduled opening.

This time around, there have been occasional screen freezes and one or two machines that ultimately had to be shut down because of malfunctioning, but there has been "nothing certainly that's impeding voting or anything like that," said Ross Goldstein, the state's deputy elections administrator.

Representatives in Virginia, home to one of the nation's more heated Senate races, also weren't aware of major glitches. But that doesn't mean the experience has been entirely seamless, admitted Barbara Cockrell, Virginia's assistant secretary for elections and training. "I'm not so sure about the people," she said, adding: "There have been some folks who hit the (vote) button too soon and have cast the vote before they made all their choices."

In Texas, Ashley Burton, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State, relayed a similar scenario--no major equipment malfunctions in the Lone Star State, but the occasional report of "voter error." "They don't realize a fingernail can brush across a machine and mark their vote," she said.

Such issues should not be taken lightly, the EFF's Zimmerman said. He said the most common gripe he has been hearing from voters on Tuesday is related to vote "calibration"--that is, when voters think they have selected one candidate on a touch-screen machine and but are told on the subsequent vote confirmation screen that a different candidate was selected.

It's hard to say how widespread the problem is, but reports of that phenomenon are "coming from many, many jurisdictions," Zimmerman said. Sometimes poll workers or voters are able to figure out how to backtrack and make sure the vote is recorded correctly, but it's often a time-consuming process that leads to long lines, he added.

Robert Brehm, a spokesman for the New York state board of elections, said he had no electronic voting glitches to speak of. But that could be because the nation's third-most populous state is still only experimenting with electronic equipment--this year, it's relying almost entirely on old-fashioned lever machines instead.

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