First run of electronic voting machines has slow start, finish

Josh Echt

This year, touch-screen voting machines were used for the first time instead of traditonal punch cards. Lois Enlow, director of board of elections, showed how to use touch-screen monitors on Oct. 3.

Credit: Ben Breier

The Portage County Board of Elections experienced few problems with the newly mandated electronic voting machines during yesterday’s election, said Deputy Director Glenda F. Enders.

But election results did come in slower than in previous years.

“Early this morning, we had a few start-up problems, such as paper jams,” Enders said. The board of elections quickly fixed the problems with the machines, which were used for the first time yesterday.

A drawback to the system, she said, is the slower acquisition of results.

“We’re running behind because it’s a new voting system,” said Paul Jones, chairman of the Portage County Board of Elections. “We’re training people on how to count as they’re counting, but that will get better every time we have an election.”

The board of elections started counting absentee votes at 7:30 p.m., Jones said, and started counting precinct votes an hour later. As of 11:15 p.m., 83 percent of the county’s 129 precincts had been counted.

Enders said Portage County had no problem with the previous punch card system of voting. The new electronic voting machines also affected the absentee ballot system, Enders said.

“We have to have two systems now: The electronic voting machines at the polls and the optical scan system for the absentee ballots,” Enders said.

However, Enders said a new feature of the machines includes the ability to tell the voter if he or she under- or over-voted.

“If the voter voted for too many candidates, the machine will warn him or her,” she said. “It also gives the voter a checking ability to see who he or she voted for.”

Forty-one counties in Ohio used the electronic system in yesterday’s election, she said, while the remaining 47 of Ohio’s 88 counties need to implement the system by May 2006.

Enders said the federal government covered the roughly $1.5 million start-up cost to put the county’s machines in, while Portage County contributed more than an estimated $200,000.

“They have to choose either optical scan or electronic voting,” Enders said. She also said voter response has been positive.

At the Kent Church of the Nazarene, Frank Skok said he was initially “not a fan” of the new machines because of their unfamiliarity.

Skok, presiding judge of Ward 4, said he warmed up to the unfamiliar machines after he and others underwent a few hours of familiarization training with the new system. Skok’s duty was to call poll workers to be at their stations on time during the election and to oversee the poll room’s operation, he said.

Once he saw how the machines worked, Skok said, he felt a lot better.

“There is also the ability to make changes when you vote,” he said. Skok said the machine featured convenient voting instructions for the voter’s ease of use.

“As soon as you put your card in it, the machine tells you what to do next,” he said.

Kent resident David Smith said the new machines did not faze him. Smith said he was able to vote without difficulty.

“The touch screen works,” he said, “and it was clear in terms of explanations.”

However, not all voters were happy with the newfangled machines.

“It did not go as easy as anticipated,” said Kent resident Paul Stock. Stock said the problems included slow load-up time and waiting for machine printouts.

His wife, Paula, said it took longer to vote, but it did not bother her.

“It didn’t matter to me,” she said.

Contact public affairs reporter Josh Echt at [email protected]. Public affairs reporter Ryan Loew

contributed to this story.