By Ian Hoffman, Alameda Newspaper Group, 03/03/04
Thousands of voters in two of California's largest, electronic-voting counties were forced to cast paper ballots and some were driven from the polls by a confluence of hardware problems, poor poll worker training and confusion over open-primary voting.
At about one in every six polling places in Alameda County, touchscreen voting ground to a temporary halt, and poll workers doled out paper provisional ballots to voters in dozens of precincts.
Voting technicians scrambled to get electronic voting running again, and troubleshooters hurried to keep precincts supplied in paper ballots. But paper ballots ran out in several precincts, and poll workers told voters to come back later.
Some did. Some didn't.
Poll workers use the encoders, which are technically known as precinct control modules, to activate the smart cards that voters insert into touchscreen voting machines. The encoders load a specific ballot onto the voter card, based on a voter's residence in certain political districts and their party registration.
The encoders had undergone testing by at least one laboratory but had never been federally certified. Based on its own consultant's testing of the devices, California's Secretary of State issued a one-time certification for the encoders, good only for Tuesday's primary.
Alameda County poll workers phoned in at least 200 voting problems in the first hours of voting, the majority of them with voter-card encoders.
"This happened all over the county," said assistant registrar of voters Elaine Ginnold.