Leader Blues

Saturday, January 12, 2008

TOP STORY >> Officials prepare machines for voting

Leader staff writers

With the start of early voting for the Feb. 5 presidential primary less than three weeks away, election officials in Pulaski, Lonoke and White counties say they have faith in the electronic voting equipment used to record and tally those votes.
Arkansas will be one of 24 states holding presidential primaries on that day.

All three counties will use only the touch-screen IvoTronic voting machines during early voting for the presidential primary, which runs for five days beginning Jan. 29, and also for early voting for the usual May 20 primaries, which run 13 weekdays, beginning May 5 and ending May 19.

“Everyone in Pulaski County should feel secure with the process,” said Susan Inman, county election director. “Each machine is tested. Each has a paper trail.”

“Pulaski County has been using touch machines for early voting since 2000,” Inman said. “It’s not new to us.”

Pulaski County doesn’t contract with ES and S to program the voting machines and scanners like some counties. “We have taken ownership of our own process, we’re not reliant on someone in Omaha to do our programming,” Inman continued.

“We understand how they actually work and what it involves setting them up,” said Inman. “We keep them in secure areas.”
Inman said the county would start training poll workers Saturday. “Election officials need to know what to do.”

After early voting, Pulaski County keeps one optical scanner at each regular polling place and one toach screen IvoTronic at each, she said. Each of the nine early voting sites will have five touch-screen voting machines.

Except for absentee voters, who will cast their ballots on paper, all White and Lonoke County voters also will vote for their presidential choice on touch-screen machines on Feb. 5 and also on the machines for the May 20 preferential primary. Not so in Pulaski County, where there are only about 140 electronic voting machines for 118 polling places. For the actual primaries and later for the general election, Pulaski County will have one touch-screen voting machine at each polling place for use by handicapped voters. Everyone else will vote a paper ballot.

The nine Pulaski County early voting sites include Jacksonville City Hall in Jacksonville, the Jack Evans Senior Citizens Center in Sherwood and the Pulaski County Courthouse in Little Rock.

“We’re going to do logic and accuracy checks the day after we (the programs) back from ES and S,” said Larry Clarke, the commissioner who heads up Lonoke County’s elections.

“We have 101 of these things now,” said Clarke of the touch screens.

In the 2004 elections, counting was held up for more than a day because the optical scanner didn’t recognize votes in one of the aldermanic races in Lonoke, he said, leading to confusion about the accuracy of the other race results for a while.

Also, the thermal printer, which provides a paper trail for each of the touch-screen machines, jammed up pretty easily. It seemed like it jammed when it got three-fourths of the way through a roll of paper, which resembles cash register tape. Clarke says the paper feeding through the voting machine changes its sound as it nears jamming and that poll workers would listen for the warning sounds.

Clarke said Lonoke County couldn’t afford to buy the ES and S programming software, so “I build the files, we send our devices to them, they program and send me back screen shots for approval. They also print our ballots and do the layouts.”
Clarke said the number of polling sites for the presidential primary has been reduced to 26 because in part because “we lost poll workers.”

Those who previously voted at Toltec Mounds State Park will now vote at Keo and those who previously voted at Hamilton Church will vote at the Humnoke School Economic Building.

All early voting for the Feb. 5 presidential primary will be at the Lonoke County Courthouse, he said. Early voting for the May preferential primary will also be held at Cabot.

Clarke said four trainings for poll workers would be held.

Because it has 101 touch-screen voting machines for fewer than 28 precincts, each polling place will have between two and five of them, depending upon the number of anticipated voters.

Clarke said the machines are apportioned at the rate of one per each 200 voters, based on a 56 percent turnout.

In White County, the election commission reduced the number of polling places in 2006 from 89 to 32 to make it easier for commissioners to monitor the elections. That decision was contested in court and upheld by Circuit Judge Bill Mills.
White County has 165 machines which are distributed based on the number of voters expected.

Leslie Bellamy, White County election coordinator, said sites where heavy voting is expected could have as many as 10.
Voter turnout is usually lower for primaries than for November elections, Bellamy said, but having two candidates from Arkansas is certain to generate interest in the presidential primary.

On the other hand, the state has never had a February primary for president and that could have a negative impact on turnout, she said.