Malfunctioning cards delayed poll voting Tuesday morning
By STEVE E. SWENSON and SHELLIE BRANCO, Californian staff writers
Tuesday, Jun 6 2006 8:26 AM
Last Updated: Tuesday, Jun 6 2006 11:35 AM
Widespread problems with Kern County voting machines prompted election officials Tuesday morning to ask people to wait until about 10 a.m. to go the polls.
Chief Deputy Registrar Sandy Brockman said election workers learned at 7 a.m. when the polls opened that many voter access cards--the cards voters use to work the voting machines--were not programmed right to operate.
"A procedure that no one told us about needs to be done," Brockman said. "It's a widespread problem in the county."
Election workers were working furiously to remedy the problem and Brockman estimated it would be about 10 a.m. before things started running smoothly. "We're asking people not to vote for a couple hours," she said.
By 10:15 a.m., virtually all polling places were operational, due in part to a sheriff's helicopter bring the right stuff out to Ridgecrest and election workers meeting poll workers halfway in outlying areas, Brockman said.
"It's a nighmare I never wanted to handle," Brockman said.
She acknowledged that some voters left polling places without voting. She said people had 13 hours to vote so hopefully they will go back before the polls close.
Accommodations were made to enable some people to vote, including using their sample voter pamphlets, Brockman said. Others were directed to the downtown election office to vote.
As a last resort, voters can fill out their sample ballots, sign them, provide their address and fax them to the Elections Department at 868-3768, Registrar Ann Barnett told Kern County supervisors.
Some cards did work early Tuesday, but others didn't, she said. And some centers, such as Harvest Hall at the Kern County Fairgrounds, handed out a limited number of paper ballots, she said.
John Riddiough, a Bakersfield voter, said he had to write his choices by placing his paper on a wall because there were not enough tables at Harvest Hall.
It's not confidential, he said.
He and other voters described long lines of people waiting to vote.
Alan Ferguson of Bakersfield said he was waiting in a line for more than a half hour at East Hills Mall to vote.
When only some cards worked, voters had to wait until they could get one of those to vote, Brockman said.
There were not enough paper ballots for everyone, she said.
For example, Greg Van Mullem, said he was able to vote with a paper ballot at the Southwest Library because he is a Democrat, but Republicans were being told at about 8:15 a.m. they didn't have any more Republican paper ballots.
"I got to vote but Republicans were being turned away," he said.
As the morning went on, lines thinned at many polling places, voters reported.
County supervisors discussed the malfunction in their regular morning meeting.
Kern County Registrar Ann Barnett told the board people needed voter access cards that were cleared of information stored from a previous election. A clear card was necessary to access the touch-screen of the electronic voting machines, she added.
Barnett said voters can also cast their sample ballots at polling sites if there is no other way immediately available.
It would take an order from a judge to extend election hours, and Supervisor Ray Watson said he doesn't want to see someone challenge the election over the problem.
Supervisor Jon McQuiston suggested staff from the elections office should return to the board's 2 p.m. meeting with an update. The board could take an urgent vote on any steps to help, he added.
McQuiston said the board should follow up on how the voting machines' manufacturer handled such technical issues.
Barnett said she did not train her staff to provide paper ballots if the machines failed. Supervisor Michael Rubio suggested a grassroots approach--the supervisors could "get in a car and divvy up polling sites" to provide assistance.