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Glitches snag voting in city, county races

Technicians correct machine hang-ups but concern arises for election in fall by Cynthia Howell, Dale Ellis, Emily Walkenhorst | March 8, 2020 at 3:34 a.m.

PINE BLUFF -- Voting machine problems in Jefferson County delayed the count in city and county races Tuesday night after poll workers in several locations were unable to close out the machines.

It raises concerns about what will happen if the county doesn't get new equipment for the November general election.

On Tuesday night, technicians from the Election Commission had to manually close the machine at each affected location.

The iVotronic touch-screen machines have been in service for about 15 years. Michael Adam, chairman of the county Election Commission, announced shortly before 9 p.m. Tuesday that final results would be delayed. The results were announced after 10:30 p.m.

The primary got off to a rocky start during early voting when a ballot error in the Democratic primary affecting four precincts that had the wrong state Senate race on the ballot was discovered and after 152 people had cast ballots in the wrong race.

The four precincts in Pine Bluff were programmed with the Senate District 25 race between incumbent Sen. Stephanie Flowers of Pine Bluff and Efrem Elliott of White Hall, but should have been programmed with the Senate District 27 race between Keidra Burrell of Pine Bluff and former Rep. Garry Smith of Camden.

"We have sent our lead technician out to the polling sites to address the problem," Adam said at the Election Commission's office Tuesday night. "He has been on the phone with [Election Systems & Software] and they've tried several things, but so far nothing is working. The problem is, these machines are old, the contact wires are loose, the batteries are bad, and we're working to get the issues fixed."

The state Board of Election Commissioners learned of the county's tabulation problem from the election monitor it had placed there. The issue didn't appear to be jeopardizing the actual votes, just delaying the results, said Daniel Shults, director of the board.

"There is a complaint process, which would allow us to do a full investigation in the aftermath," Shults said. "I'm fairly confident that won't be exercised."

The monitor will send the board an official report in the coming weeks, Shults said. But based on what he's heard from the monitor so far, he's not too concerned, he said.

"There are several redundancies in the voting equipment," he said. Workers can extract from the machines a record of votes using multiple methods, he said. Receipts are used in recounts.

"So worst-case scenario, there's a paper record you can go back and reference," Shults said.

EARLIER PROBLEMS

Stuart "Stu" Soffer, a county election commissioner, called the early hours of Election Day in his county "a nightmare," reminiscent of the theme to the early 1960s sitcom Car 54, Where Are You? that centered on a never-ending series of emergency calls in New York City.

He blamed the problems on inadequate, aging equipment that has long needed to be replaced.

"We told the secretary of state that this was going to happen," Soffer said. "We told the media that this was going to happen, and yet we do not have new voting equipment in Jefferson County."

In addition to ballot problems with the Senate 25 and 27 races uncovered earlier, officials struggled Monday night to load corrected information to the election reporting manager laptop. That problem was overcome.

But hours later, on Tuesday morning, there were some 20 instances of equipment failure at the polling places. Those were largely because of loose connections between a tape printer and the iVotronic machines, causing them to fail to turn on. Four of the machines had to be replaced, Soffer said.

By late morning, all the machines were operating, Soffer said, adding that the high school students from Pine Bluff, White Hall and Dollarway who were serving as trained "election pages" had been particularly helpful at polling sites.

ELSEWHERE

Arkansas voters encountered occasional hindrances Tuesday, but nothing insurmountable, election officials in several counties said.

Shults said his office had received a few calls from people with concerns about electioneering.

In Pulaski County, Election Director Bryan Poe said there was "nothing out of the ordinary" at the start of Election Day and that all polling places opened on time.

Frank Barton, an election commissioner in Crittenden County, said that earlier in the day, there was a tabulator at one polling site that counted some ballots and kicked others out. The excluded ballots were later counted by a new tabulator.

"Everyone who wanted to vote, voted, and all the votes were counted," Barton said, adding that election officials will follow up to ensure that the problem isn't repeated in future elections.

Latara Davis, an elections assistant in Phillips County, said there were a few problems with machines early in the day, but everyone was able to vote.

Election officials in Faulkner, Garland and Sebastian counties said Tuesday that voting had gone smoothly and tabulation as well.

Garland County had counted nearly half of its 25 locations within 45 minutes of the polls closing, Commission Chairman Gene Haley said. The county was the first in the state to get new machines five years ago, he said.

"We got it down," he said. "We're good."

State Desk on 03/08/2020

Print Headline: Glitches snag voting in city, county races

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