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“Ballot madness”

Thursday, Mar 23, 2006

I am in almost total agreement with this Tribune editorial about the problems with the new voting equipment in Cook County and Chicago.

Machines were programmed incorrectly. Some were sent out with parts missing. Some had power cords that were too short to reach the nearest outlet. Election judges were expected to follow a complex, multipage manual of instructions for running and closing polls–but were given little or no preparation. Some had training for up to three hours. But some didn’t lay hands on the machines they were in charge of until primary day.

The worst problems began when polls closed. A cellular system to transmit results from more than 3,000 polling places to central counting centers had widespread failure. On the fly, officials ordered precincts to give up on the balky transmissions, pluck the data cartridges out of voting machines and send them to the central office for processing. Many were shipped by taxicab. […]

There’s no excuse for Tuesday’s failures. […]

This needs a lot of scrutiny. Why was this equipment used? How were the contracts let? Why was the preparation so shoddy?

The last part, about merging the county and city election systems, is less appealing to me, but I’m still open to the idea. We still don’t have complete results for several elections. What are your thoughts about Tuesday night’s problems?

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - DOWNSTATE - Thursday, Mar 23, 06 @ 6:34 am:

    Rich we were very lucky here.That is one problem that people with no political ties need to take a look at.In areas like this they need to start a week in advance with technicans.The other problem looming is how it is conducted.We need to change the part where you have to declare what party you are voting for.It seems to be keeping voters from the polls.People are afraid of reprisals.

  2. - The Colonel - Thursday, Mar 23, 06 @ 6:35 am:

    Tuesdays election in Cook Co. was a fiasco.

    Listening to Tom Leach of the CC Clerk’s office last night try an explain this away was a joke.

    We regressed 40 years, back to paper ballots. Then add the stupidity of two machines data fed into a THIRD one.

    Absolutely unforgiveable!

  3. - anonymous - Thursday, Mar 23, 06 @ 7:35 am:

    Cook County government at its finest!

  4. - Shelbyville - Thursday, Mar 23, 06 @ 8:51 am:

    My son voted in Chicago at 6:40AM, the poll was open but the workers were racing around and not prepared for voters. They handed him a ballot (w/o asking his party) and it was Democratic. When he asked for a Republican ballot, more confusion ensued. They were unable to find any Republican ballots. Someone finally knew where they were and he was able to vote. Then, there was no secure box for the completed ballots - just a Rubbermaid tub.

  5. - donchicago48 - Thursday, Mar 23, 06 @ 9:03 am:

    I spent part of Primary election day as a pollwatcher in suburban Lake County, not exactly a hotbed of voting irregularities. I observed numerous cases of people having a difficult time feeding their paper ballots into the ballot-reader. Often the ballot privacy carrier cover, a folded piece of heavy paper, would droop and prevent the ballot from feeding into the machine.

    In one case, the voter failed to heed the directions for holding the carrier, instead holding the ballot pinched between the two sides of the carrier. The feed mechanism of the ballot reader machine chattered as it tried to pull the ballot from the voter’s grip. The misfeed caused the ballot-reader computer to crash and a “MEMORY ERROR - OUT OF RANGE” error message to appear on the display. Nice rugged, well-designed technology… NOT! Voters in the two precincts assigned to that machine waited for about 10 minutes while an election judge called Lake County tech support and power-cycled the machine to reboot its embedded computer. Fortunately, the machine’s non-volatile memory had accurately retained the ballot count as evidenced by the paper tape record. The troublesome ballot was undamaged and read without incident when re-inserted.
    I find it troubling that a simple paper jam would cause the embedded ballot-reader computer to crash. One wonders what other glitches lurk within these systems.

  6. - Randall Sherman - Thursday, Mar 23, 06 @ 9:23 am:

    Since this mess was in part a creation of federal legislation that was supposed to avoid a repeat of the 2000 Florida fiasco, it seems appropriate to me for Congress (probably through their Judiciary Committees) to hold hearings here on the matter. Perhaps the House Judiciary Committee could hold one here in late August, during the summer recess (and would allow its lame-duck chairman and noted stamp collector, James Sensenbrenner, a chance to swing over and attend the annual American Philatelic Society STAMPSHOW, to be held this year at the Donald Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont August 24-27… who knows… our country might be better off if Sensenbrenner devoted more time to his hobby and less to trying to make criminals on clergy and social workers who are trying to aid immigrants).


  7. - puzzler - Thursday, Mar 23, 06 @ 10:03 am:

    It goes without saying that each polling place should have had at least one person who was well-trained in the use of the new system including how to trouble-shoot the machines and the transmission of information when the polls closed. This person would likely not have been the traditional election judge - at least not the ones I’ve encountered in my voting life. Responsibility for elections lies solely with the County Clerk. Ditto for ensuring election judges are ready for voters when the polls open. I was surprised to hear there were ballot privacy carriers. I did not see them and was not offered one at my polling place in Rock Island County.

  8. - Navin Johnson - Thursday, Mar 23, 06 @ 11:00 am:

    Langdon Neal and David Orr need to get their acts together or let someone new take over.

    The ballot counting was a fiasco. If the gap between Stroger and Claypool had been smaller it would have been a litigation extravaganza. I shudder to think of the chaos had turnout been heavier.

    Orr’s and Neal’s excuses that some glitches are were predictable is a joke. I don’t argue that glitches were inevitable, however given their inevitability, then why heck didn’t they have a better contingency plan than the chaos were were treated to Tuesday night?

    Orr and Neal continuously chastisted the media, the public and the campaigns to be patient because accuracy, not speed, what the important thing. I’d have a lot more faith in that arguement if they had been able to answer simple questions about which precincts hadn’t reported and where various ballot boxes/machines were that hadn’t reported. I don’t have much faith in claims of accuracy when simple logistical questions cannot be answered.

    Their responses reminded me of the Bush administration, trust us we are the government and the chaos you see unfolding is entirely predictable and manageable.

    If they don’t fix these problems by November, then we need new election authorities.

  9. - Carl Nyberg - Thursday, Mar 23, 06 @ 11:58 am:

    Chicago elections should be under the cognizance of the county clerk or suburban Cook should elect its own supervisor of elections.

    It doesn’t seem right that Chicagoans elect our supervisor of elections but then have their own separate system.

    I favor everyone using the Cook County Clerk because if you aren’t connected, getting info from the Chicago Board of Elections is signficantly more difficult than using Orr’s office for the comparable records outside the city.

  10. - democratic yoda - Thursday, Mar 23, 06 @ 5:27 pm:

    In this day and age things like this should not happen. Will there always be some type of voter irregularities and fraud? Of course there will be. We (humans) are imperfect by nature. Here in the United States politicians always brag and gloat over our wonderful democracy and some even want to spread it around the world. How wonderful can it be if we cannot even express our opinion through a machine? From the last 2 national elections to this year’s IL primary our voting methods are absolutely ridiculous. There needs to be ONE Universal way that everyone in the country votes. If that were to take place - one universal voting machine or technique, whatever - voting irregularities and fraud would be less prevalent.

  11. - BlagoWho? - Thursday, Mar 23, 06 @ 10:16 pm:

    This is going to sound harsh - I think the problem is old people don’t make good election judges. I understand that they’ve been doing it for 20 years, however the nature of elections and voting equipment have changed, and someone who can’t turn on a computer at home probably shouldn’t be operating voting equipment. What about training high school students to conduct election day duties - it would be the best civil lesson they could learn, they can operate a Sidekick (whatever that is) so I bet they can operate a DRE. Or what about treating the position of election judge similar to that of a jury duty. Everyone should have to do their civic duty every 5 years.

    I agree that the election authorities didnt adequate train the election judges, however they weren’t exactly given the funds to do so.

    It’s time to rethink the way we conduct elections - grace period registration, early voting, mailing absentee ballots, etc. How many ways can we vote in this state? I dont have the answers, but I think we need to come up with another model. Spending millions of dollars on election equipment taht doesnt work bcuz people arent educated how to use it is a waste of taxpayer money. I think we permit registration until the day before election day, set up early voting polling places in designated areas of each county for the 20 days leading up to election day, permit those who are out of the country or truly unable to make it to the poll to mail in an absentee ballot, and then do away with election day voting and use the day to simply count the votes. We’d have results by that evening (just in time for the 10pm news).

  12. - Ex-Newfie - Friday, Mar 24, 06 @ 5:10 am:

    Even though I may be considered one of the “old people”(although a computer literate one), I agree with BlagoWho. Election judges need to be alert, fully trained and paid. They should be tested on the equipment well before election day and if they can’t demonstrate that they understand it or can fix it when it breaks, they don’t qualify as judges. Surely, there are members of both parties and independents who would qualify. Paying them would bring out people who could handle the job, not party synchophants. And employing high school students isn’t a bad idea. They probably don’t have any party connections yet and still retain the naivete about patriotism and voting that they supposedly learned in high school.

  13. - DOWNSTATE - Friday, Mar 24, 06 @ 5:53 am:

    Blagowho is right our polling places are voluneers who take a day from work and most of them are very computer savvy.We went thru without a hitch.I wonder how many real problems Chicago has or is it a way to slip a few extra in.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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