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Severe Election Problems Seen in 10 States

Severe Election Problems Seen in 10 States

By Jason Leopold
t r u t h o u t | Report

Thursday 26 October 2006

A nonpartisan organization tracking election reform across the United States released a report Wednesday warning that 10 states are likely to experience severe problems on November 7 because of electronic voting machines and new voter identification laws that could call into question the results of some races.

"The November 7 election promises to bring more of what voters have come to expect since the 2000 election - a divided body politic, an election system in flux and the possibility - if not certainty - of problems at polls nationwide," the report says. issued a 75-page report, "Election Preview 2006: What's Changed, What Hasn't, and Why," which claims that a handful of the midterm election's hotly contested campaigns in states such as Ohio, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Florida and Indiana may face particular trouble because of the transition to electronic voting machines. The machines have been proven unreliable in choosing the right candidate, as demonstrated by numerous tests cases in the years that the machines have replaced paper ballots.

"This was supposed to be the year - and the election - when the voting process nationwide was more secure, more technologically advanced and more trusted by the citizens and candidates participating," said in a summary of its report. "Yet as the mid-term elections approach, machine failures, database delays and foul-ups, inconsistent procedures, new rules and new equipment have some predicting chaos at the polls at worst and widespread polling place snafus at best."

The disastrous 2000 presidential election led Congress to pass the Omnibus Appropriations Bill, which was signed into law by President Bush in October 2002. The law was supposed to overhaul the electoral process and make it easier for people to choose which candidates to vote for. Instead, the law will force most states to switch from paper balloting to a fully computerized system - one that is currently rife with programming flaws and is incapable of being audited.

Computerized voting and the technological problems related to the system had already been realized before hanging chads became a household phrase. In November 1998, an election in Hawaii was held using state-of-the-art computers designed by Electronic Systems & Software, a company with close ties to Republican lawmakers in Washington, DC.

Seven of ES&S's 361 voting machines used in Hawaii on Election Day in November 1998 malfunctioned (five units had lens occlusion, one unit had a defective cable and one unit had a defective "read head"), which led to Hawaii's first-ever statewide election review and a first in the history of the United States. Hundreds of people who used the machines complained mightily to local election officials that the candidates they picked did not register in the computerized system.

Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) was part owner and former chairman and chief executive of ES&S, the company that made all the equipment that counted the votes during his last two runs for office, yet he failed to list his ties to the company on federal disclosure forms.

Serious voting irregularities are predicted again in Maryland, which just suffered through a fiasco in the September primary. Diebold, one of the main manufacturers of electronic voting machines, allegedly wrote a computer code specifically for Maryland that was corrupted and caused problems with the electronic poll books, according to Linda Lamone, the state's election director.

"The most recent and vivid example of what can go wrong during an election using electronic machines was Maryland's September 12 primary," the report says. "There, a combination of human error and technical problems had voters in the state's most populous county casting provisional ballots and voting on scraps of paper and even campaign literature after an election official forgot to include machine activator cards with materials that went out to more than 200 precincts. In precincts where the machines were started up on time, some reported "widespread trouble with voting apparatuses during Tuesday's primary - machines that froze, access cards that stopped working and computerized voter lists that crashed.The glitches led to long lines at many polling places and caused some voters to worry that their ballots had not been recorded properly, if at all."

Additionally, the organization says confusion over the strict new Voter ID law in states like Arizona, where voters are required to show up with a specific form of identification, may deter people from showing up at the polls as well as create long lines that could hinder the ability for some people to cast their ballots before polls close. Critics say the law is aimed at deterring immigrants from voting.

In Colorado, says state officials started closing neighborhood polling places in favor of larger locations, possibly making it inconvenient and much more difficult for people to get out and vote.

"The use of so-called "vote centers"- consolidated,accessible polling locations where any voter in the county can cast their appropriate ballot - continues to grow in the state," the report says. "In Denver County, home to more than 10 percent of the state's residents,over 400 precincts were closed in favor of opening 47 vote centers."

Moreover, residents of Colorado "who first used new touch-screen voting machines this year had problems during early voting for the August primary," the report added. "The state was sued over the use of the machines and a judge ruled to allow their continued use, but criticized the state's certification process of these devices and said they will need to be recertified after this election."

The other states identified in the report where voting is expected to be rife with flaws in the polling results are Connecticut, Indiana, Florida, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington. Georgia, Missouri, and Montana may also experience irregularities at the polls, however, the issues plaguing these states are seen as less severe, according to the report.


Jason Leopold is a former Los Angeles bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswire. He has written over 2,000 stories on the California energy crisis and received the Dow Jones Journalist of the Year Award in 2001 for his coverage on the issue as well as a Project Censored award in 2004. Leopold also reported extensively on Enron's downfall and was the first journalist to land an interview with former Enron president Jeffrey Skilling following Enron's bankruptcy filing in December 2001. Leopold has appeared on CNBC and National Public Radio as an expert on energy policy and has also been the keynote speaker at more than two dozen energy industry conferences around the country.

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