E-voting off to rocky start in some states

Problems so far are characterized as minor, despite possible voter disenfranchisement

With less than a week still to go before the presidential election, dozens of voters in Florida may have already been disenfranchised as a result of technical glitches in the computers supporting the state's early voting process.

Since early voting began on Oct. 18 in Florida and in at least seven other key states, voters have reported hundreds of problems to the Election Incident Reporting System, an online database founded by grass-roots voter organizations, including the Verified Voting Foundation and Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility.

Thirty-two states allow residents to vote at the polls before Election Day.

Of the 666 incidents reported in Florida, 33 have been linked to alleged voting machine malfunctions in Broward, Duval, Lee, Marion, Miami-Dade, Orange, Palm Beach, Sarasota and Volusia counties.

In Broward County, for example, some voters complained of electronic touch-screen systems that presented incomplete ballots.

Alia Faraj, spokeswoman for Florida Deputy Secretary of State Dave Mann, said that contrary to news reports, there have been no problems during early voting related to any of the touch-screen electronic voting systems in Florida. The only problems that did occur, she said, involved laptop computers that were used to check voter registration rolls in some of the counties.

Those problems were fixed immediately by a simple reboot of the computers, said Faraj. "The touch-screen systems have been operating as planned," she said.

Will Doherty, executive director of the San Francisco-based Verified Voting Foundation, said that despite Florida's assertion that the malfunctions of the laptops handling voter registrations were minor, his organization is aware of dozens of voters who were turned away from the polls "because of that minor system crash."

Doherty also said there have been multiple reports related to touch-screen calibration problems. Some voters have reported that when they touched the screen next to their candidate's name, the screen highlighted the opposing candidate, according to Doherty.

In addition to the counties in Florida, localities in Colorado, Tennessee and Texas, as well as two-thirds of the counties in Georgia, have experienced connection problems between their early voting sites and the central server where voter registration databases reside, according to Votersunite.org, a nonpartisan, grass-roots voter advocacy group.

In President George W. Bush's home state of Texas, some Travis County and Austin County voters complained of touch-screen voting systems that marked a vote for Bush even though they voted Democratic across the board. In Houston, only five voting machines out of approximately 20 were operating, causing long lines and forcing some voters to leave polling places without voting.

"If [these] problems come up on Nov. 2, and they most certainly will, voters can expect to stand in long lines or not vote," said John Gideon, co-founder of Votersunite.org. "The fact that elections officials are again beta-testing our voting system in a live election is incomprehensible."

Alfie Charles, a spokesman for Sequoia Voting Systems, said it is important not to confuse a minor glitch in a voter registration system with the process of voting on an electornic voting system. So far, all reports are that the actual direct recording equipment touch-screen systems are operating normally, he said.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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