Wednesday, October 6, 2004

Washington State: 20 voting machines broke down during the Snohomish County primary

By Jerry Cornfield, The Herald, October 6, 2004


Twenty touch-screen voting machines broke down on Sept. 14 in Snohomish County, but officials said Tuesday that no votes were lost and no voter was prevented from casting a ballot.

County elections manager Carolyn Diepenbrock said mechanical failures rendered the machines inoperable for the primary election. Some simply froze, while the viewing screens on others went blank.

"We're still trying to figure out what triggered the mechanical failures," she said. "We don't have that answer yet."

Snohomish County uses touch-screen machines made by Sequoia Voting Systems of Oakland, Calif.


On the day of the primary, 20 of the 886 machines deployed in polling places had to be shut down after activation cards got stuck. While the problem has occurred in previous elections, it has never occurred on that many machines, Diepenbrock said.

Sequoia technicians spent last week in Everett testing the machines that broke down, as well as and the ones that did not. They did not uncover the cause of the problem.

"The difficulties appear to stem from mechanical failure of parts or hardware components," Michael Frontera, vice president of Sequoia operations, wrote in an Oct. 1 letter to the county auditor, Bob Terwilliger.

"Although we are never satisfied when components fail or require replacement, we do recognize that a limited amount of repair will always be required where mechanical parts are utilized," Frontera wrote.

On Friday, Terwilliger sent Secretary of State Sam Reed a copy of Frontera's letter, plus a report on what occurred. He also wrote that audits done after the primary found that "no votes were lost."

Diepenbrock said all votes cast up to the moment of mechanical failure were recorded on the cartridges.

To be certain, workers compared the total number of people who signed the poll book with the total number of votes cast on all of the machines at that polling place.

"This verified that no votes were lost and all votes cast were counted," she said.

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