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Winnebago County wants to be reimbursed for too-wide ballots

Friday, Mar 23, 2012

* Winnebago’s county clerk wants some compensation from ABS Graphics, which cut the county’s paper ballots just a tad too big. 25 Illinois counties had similar problems. In Winnebago, 36 percent of 23,400 ballots cast were too wide to fit into the machines. The county clerk then decided to “reballot,” instead of trimming the ballots with scissor or counting by hand

In Winnebago County, the problem kept dozens of people working past midnight on Election Day to remake ballots by hand. The tedious work of filling in small ovals with black markers picked up again at 9 a.m. Wednesday, lasting until around 11 p.m. All ballots weren’t counted until after midnight.

More on how the process worked

Charles Laskonis, as head of the Winnebago County Democratic Central Committee, was called to bring a team of Democrats in for reballoting. A crew of Republicans also was assembled. But state Senate candidates Marla Wilson and Steve Stadelman questioned Laskonis’ presence because he had supported their opponent, Dan Lewandowski. They also objected to the appearance of attorney John Nelson, who was present as an observer, because he represented objectors who tried to have them removed from the ballot.

Mullins responded by allowing representatives of each candidate into the third-floor room of the county administration building, where reballoting was sequestered from candidates and reporters’ cameras.

“We’re all sitting there and (Mullins) said, ‘Anybody in the room who worked on a campaign put your hand up,’ and everybody put their hand up,” said Laskonis, who said the large majority of the ballots he handled were Republican.

The Election Day tension and political posturing subsided as everyone got to work filling out newly made ballots. Ballot makers took an oath to uphold the integrity of the election, then a Democrat and Republican were paired across from each other to begin reballoting. In most cases, when a Democratic ballot needed to be remade, the Republican handled it first and vice versa, said Terri Knight, Harlem Township supervisor who worked on Election Day reballoting.

After the ballot was remade by one person, the other checked. Both initialed their work. Identical numbers were given to both original oversized ballots and their new, smaller counterparts. That allows candidates who question whether a ballot was properly remade to do a side-by-side comparison.

* So, how did this problem happen? From the Tribune

“It was an issue in the trimming of the ballots,” said Ken Griffin, managing partner at Liberty Systems LLC, one of two ballot vendors who use the same Addison printing company to produce ballots. “The knives they use to cut the ballots as they come off the press were just a little out of tolerance. If you saw it, you wouldn’t believe it was enough to cause a problem. We are thinking this warm weather might have had something to do with it too.

“It’s traumatic for all of us, because we want everything to go as smoothly as it can from the very start,” Griffin said at about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday. “But we believe we have it under control.”

* More from the front

Vermilion County Clerk Lynn Foster said 56 of her 59 precincts experience the problem.

Foster said she grabbed “every paper cutter I could get my hands on and we have spent all day catching up. We also discovered that if we used ballots from the bottom of the stack they worked better. They come in these shrink wrapped packages so I just told everybody to flip them over and use ballots from the bottom.”

She said she expected as many as 600 ballots had to be sliced.

* And it’s just a good thing Tuesday wasn’t a general election, or officials would’ve been swamped

“I wouldn’t say we’re happy about it, but it would have been a whole lot worse in a general election,” said McDonough County Clerk Gretchen DeJaynes, whose staff used hair dryers on some moist ballots.

“We had 27 percent turnout,” she said. “In November, in a presidential year, we will have over 60 percent.”

How many ballots were faulty was unknown, Borgsmiller said.

But in Macoupin County alone, about 6,000 of the 7,496, ballots cast did not fit in the scanning machines, Duncan said. DeJaynes said there were problems with a couple thousand ballots in McDonough County.

- Posted by Rich Miller        


5 Comments
  1. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Friday, Mar 23, 12 @ 12:14 pm:

    I’d like to know who sold us scanners with feeders that were not adjustable…unlike every printer, photocopier, and scanner I’ve ever seen on the shelf.


  2. - JN - Friday, Mar 23, 12 @ 12:31 pm:

    YDD might have it right. Every specification has tolerances, and the fault falls to whichever party either exceeded those tolerances or failed to define the tolerances in the first place.


  3. - wordslinger - Friday, Mar 23, 12 @ 12:32 pm:

    –We are thinking this warm weather might have had something to do with it too.–

    Say what? The best early spring of our lives, and you dump on it?


  4. - OneMan - Friday, Mar 23, 12 @ 1:07 pm:

    If you look at the ‘bad’ ballots, they were really really close to being in tollerance (at least in Aurora), you can see the line that the ‘boundary’ is defined by (it was in a corner) and the paper was just wide. It wasn’t that they would not fit in the machine, it would read it then reject it for being to wide. So I think if it is anyone’s fault it is the printers


  5. - Judgment Day - Friday, Mar 23, 12 @ 1:27 pm:

    “I’d like to know who sold us scanners with feeders that were not adjustable…unlike every printer, photocopier, and scanner I’ve ever seen on the shelf.”

    Here’s the problem with doing that (not a bad idea, actually) - Most of the scanning stations (Accuvote, etc.) for processing ballots are designed using ATM type technology, and what would be normal variables/tolerances on printers, scanners, etc. are specific “no-go” on voting machines (just like on ATM’s).

    You always protect against potential outside (external) manipulation of the hardware, and the best way is mandating extremely tight tolerances. Normally that’s a very good thing, but in this case it reached up & bit us.

    If I were Winnebago, I wouldn’t scream too loud. They have got enough of their own issues, and there’s been more than a few times where vendors have bailed them out of situations where the County had nobody to blame but themselves.


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