Tuesday, March 2, 2004

Technical glitches keep some from casting ballots

San Francisco Chronicle staff reports, 03/02/4


Although most early reports said that voting appeared to be going smoothly, in some places there were technical glitches.

An equipment malfunction slowed voting at 200 precincts in Alameda County, and voters may have been turned away at some sites. At 1515 Francisco St. in Berkeley, voters who appeared at 8:10 a.m. were told the voting machines were out of order and, besides, the poll workers had run out of Democratic Party ballots.

Officials blamed the trouble on a newly installed device called a voter card encoder. The size of a laptop computer, it is programmed to make sure voters get the right ballot for their party affiliation when they sign in.

But at about 200 precincts, either it did not work properly or poll workers could not get it to display any data.

Officials were able to fix most of the problems by troubleshooting over the phone. But 25 sites had to resort to paper ballots as a backup to the county's touch-screen voting machines, and some ran out of them.

The problems were not limited to Alameda County. Voters in Maryland, Georgia and Southern California encountered scattered technical problems, largely blamed on human error, as electronic voting machines got their biggest U.S. test so far.

Dozens of machines in California's San Diego County failed to boot up properly, forcing voters to wait until they were fixed or to go to another polling spot to cast paper ballots. When some San Diego poll workers plugged in machines, a screen for the Windows operating system and not the voting program appeared. Officials spent more than two hours getting all machines operating.

The problem, which apparently was triggered by a power fluctuation, affected between 10 and 15 percent of the county's 1,611 precincts, said Mike Workman, a San Diego County spokesman.

Officials said they were unsure how many voters had to leave for work before the problem was fixed.

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