Leader Blues

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

TOP STORY >> Readying of voting machines is lagging

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

In an emergency meeting Tuesday morning, Pulaski County Election Commissioners authorized Susan Inman, the director, to order additional printed ballots because Electronic Systems and Software has not yet made good on its contract to provide programming for the county’s new voting machines in time for early voting for the May 23 primary.

Early voting begins May 8.

Even more pressing, the absentee ballots must be delivered to the county clerk by the end of this week without the commission having had an opportunity to test the ballots against the ballot scanners, because ES&S hasn’t programmed them either, she said.

Those ballots may have to be hand counted, Inman said.

Inman, who along with Pulaski County Clerk Pat O’Brien, extricated Pulaski County elections from disarray, said she guaranteed that early voters would have something to vote on by May 8, but “It may not be a touch-screen.”
“It’s out of our hands,” said Inman.

“We’ve been trying to get something out of the vendor on a daily basis.”
ES&S did not return calls from the Leader Tuesday.

“We had expected to have enough Ivotronic machines delivered (and programmed) to allow one per polling location and five for each of the early voting sites,” said Inman. “The state cut back their numbers. We’ll be getting a reduced number. It could affect the number we place for early voting.”

The commission will meet again at 8 a.m. Friday to get an updated status report on the situation, she said.
The county has taken delivery of 156 of the 173 machines promised, but a voting machine without a program is like a car without gas, she said.

The new machines will fulfill a federal mandate, not only allowing blind voters to cast their ballots without help, but also providing a paper trail for verification and recount purposes, according to Inman.

Congress mandated the new voting machines and scanners and paid for the first round. Any additions to the 173 will be the county’s responsibility.

If they are programmed in time, there will be at least one of the new, touch-screen voting machines at each of the 124 polling places in the county, said Inman, for use by disabled voters or anyone preferring them to the paper ballots.

In northern Pulaski County, early voting will be done at Jacksonville City Hall or the Sherwood Senior Center, according to Inman. Each polling place also will have a new optical scanner to read paper ballots she said.

Right now, the old scanners will be used, she said, but ESS still needs to program them.

The plan is for the county to have 173 touch-screen machines, allowing for one at each of 124 polling places and five at teach of nine early-voting polling places, with four spares, Inman said.