#Article (Archive)

The Voting Equipment is New, But Problems Are Likely on Election Day

Oct 31, 2008, 6:59 AM | Article By: Pap Saine in USA

Eight years after confusion over a punch-card "butterfly ballot" here helped put George W Bush in the White House, election officials have tried just about everything else, reports USA Today newspaper.

In 2004, they switched to touch screen machines at a cost of $16million. But there was no printed record of votes, which raised suspicions about the tallies. So the electronic machines were scrapped.

This year, for $7million more, progress means a step back in time- using paper and No.2 pencils. The ballots are fed through optical scanners, then preserved on metal shelves in a country warehouse for at least 22 months.

Wednesday October 29this the sixth anniversary of the Help America Act vote of 2002, which was designed to upgrade states' voting equipment. But officials here across the nation aren't so sure the broad changes inspired by Bush's disputed victory over Democrat Al Gore in 2000 have helped improve the way America votes.

As Tuesday's election approaches, what they know is that it has cost $2billion, confounded election administrators and left voters facing new challenges.

"We know that on Nov 4ththe voting system will fail somewhere," says Lawrence Norden, Director of voting technology and the BrennanCenter for Justice at New York University School of Law.

"There is no perfect system. All of these systems have problems."

More than 40% of the nation's registered voters live in areas that have switched equipment since the 2004 presidential election.

Since 2000, the figure is 68% that increases the chances of human error in tabulating election results, because voters and poll workers are less familiar with each new method of voting. 

Long lines, machine breakdowns and mistakes by voters and poll workers have plagued the run-up to this year's historic election at a time when more than 30 states are having early voting periods to try to boost turnout and reduce logjams at the polls on Election Day.

In 2006, some machines in Ohio didn't work and some technicians didn't show up or couldn't fix them. In this year's primaries, precincts from California to the District of Columbia ran out of paper ballots, and more poll workers were needed.

In recent months, registration databases, required by the new federal law, have come under scrutiny as election officials compare voter's identifications with motor vehicle and Social Security records. The matching process has led to law suits as voters' registrations are challenged.

Some of the money congress spread among states and counties has improved the staffing and procedures at election administration offices. But two thirds of it went for new equipment, even though federal standards for such equipment had not been set.

In many cases, the quick shift in voting systems has confused voters and poll workers.