Problems Found in Ohio Computer Voting

A report finds several bugs in the new voting system in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. The report says that poll workers were poorly trained in monitoring the new touch-screen voting machines, and there were discrepancies between the new paper-ballot backups and the votes recorded by the machines.

In the first thorough study of a paper-backed system — often seen as an answer to concerns about touch-screen voting — the nonpartisan Election Science Intistute found that about 10 percent of the paper ballots sampled were uncountable. And in Ohio, that's a big problem: The paper ballot is the official ballot if there's a recount.

When Cuyahoga County voters went to the polls, they reviewed a paper ballot attached to their touch-screen machine before casting their vote electronically. That way, there were two records of the vote. But ESI, which was hired by the county to check the ballots, reported some disturbing results.

In at least one instance, thermal paper was fed into the machine backward. The result was that, despite the printer working properly, nothing appeared on the sheets. Elsewhere, paper jammed, creating areas in which votes were written over one another.

The machine manufacturer, Diebold Election Systems, has dismissed the ESI report as "severely flawed" and says the company stands by its equipment.

Michael Vu is Cuyahoga's election director. He admits the county has experienced some growing pains as it moves to more sophisticated technology. It plans to spend $700,000 on more training for poll workers.

But Vu thinks that, even with the glitches, the new machines are an improvement over previously used punchcards.

"If you lost the ballots, you lost it for good," Vu says. "There's no way of retrieving those votes. Here in this new environment, you have a backup and redundancy method."

And, he says, in the event of a recount, the county can always recreate the paper trail using the electronically stored results.

But Cleveland State University law professor Candace Hoke, who worked at one poll, says that process would defeat the purpose of having a paper ballot verified by the voter, and she's not sure it will hold up in court.

Hoke, like many other election officials across the country, are now waiting to see what happens in November.

About half of the states require their election machines to produce voter-verifed paper ballots.

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