New equipment debuting on election day
By Kathleen Folkerth
SUMMIT COUNTY — Bugs have continued to plague the county’s new election equipment in tests, but the director of the Summit County Board of Elections said he’s ready to deal with the problems that might come up during the Primary Election May 2.
“I do anticipate we’ll have some failures that will need to be addressed,” said Bryan Williams. “When it fails, we’ll have to be ready.”
Despite the problems, Williams is optimistic.
“I think it’ll go well,” he said.
After 30 years of using punch cards, the county will implement its new voting system, using Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) equipment, for next week’s election.
The new method requires voters to use black pen on a paper ballot to fill in circles next to their choices, similar to a standardized test. The ballot is then placed in a scanner by the voter, and a digital readout will report if there are any errors, such as over-voting.
“It’s a simple way to vote,” Williams said.
The path to acquiring the new technology has not been easy, though.
A new system was required to be in place by this election, Williams said, because of the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002. One goal of the act was to replace punch card and lever machine voting throughout the country.
Ohio approved the use of two different types of voting equipment, optical scan readers and touch-screen machines. In Summit County, the Board of Elections’ vote between the two was 2-2, meaning Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell had to break the tie. Blackwell favored the optical scan equipment because of its lower price, Williams said.
The county purchased the system made by Election Systems & Software (ES&S), of Omaha, Neb. Federal and state funds, part of the voter act, provided $4.6 million in funding for the new equipment.
Williams said he estimates the county will have kicked in an additional $200,000 to $500,000 for other expenses not covered by the act.
“There was no county money needed for the acquisition, but to convert from a punch card system there are some other expenses regardless of what type of system we chose,” Williams said.
The PCOS equipment uses a memory card stored in the scanner to record the scanned ballots. During required testing by the state, the failure rate for the cards was 30 percent — a far cry from the less than 1 percent expected, Williams said.
“There was an engineering
problem with a batch of cards being used in Summit County
and around the country,” Williams said. “[ES&S
has] replaced all the cards
As recent as last week, memory
cards continued to fail during testing, Williams said.
“Every time they’ve
improved, but they’re continuing to fail,”
Once a card fails, it is replaced
by the manufacturer. The county has 475 cards for each
precinct, plus an additional 50 on hand. Testing is
now finished, and the programmed cards are locked away,
Williams said one of the benefits
of the PCOS system is that even if the memory cards
fail during voting, the paper ballots serve as a backup.
“No matter what equipment
fails, voting will not be interrupted,” Williams
If the scanners do malfunction,
voters can still vote and place their ballot in a box,
and it will be scanned later by poll staffers, or hand
counted if necessary.
Some problems also were encountered
with the AutoMARK system, which will be used by voters
with disabilities. Williams said voters using this system
can choose to hear the ballot read to them. The problem
was that the computer-generated voice mispronounced
many of the names on the ballot.
Williams said the problem has
Also, the election reporting
manager, which is the computer software that
totals the votes, had problems
reading the results. Williams said the computer wasn’t
programmed properly, but the problem has now been fixed.
At polling locations May 2, voters
will sign in as usual and be given a ballot in a manila
folder and a pen. Three-sided voting booths will provide
some privacy while voters make their choices.
When finished, the voter will
place the ballot back in the folder and go to the scanner
to feed the ballot. If the readout states there is an
error, the voter can make a choice to get the ballot
back or submit it with errors.
Scanned ballots are fed from
the scanner into a locked box, Williams said.
At the end of voting day, the
memory cards will be taken to the Board of Elections.
There is also a paper receipt that can be printed out
on each machine at the end of the day that shows each
race and the total votes for each candidate that were
scanned into that machine.
Williams said voters concerned
with the legitimacy of the new technology should be
assured there are checks and balances in the system.
“If there’s any question
to the propriety of accounting, we always have the ballots
so they can be examined,” Williams said. “That’s
something that doesn’t exist with the touch-screen
Williams said about 2,500
booth workers will have been trained to use the new
equipment before May 2. About 2,000 will be needed to
work on Election Day.
In addition, voters have been
introduced to the system at demonstrations set up at
libraries and other public places. Williams isn’t
sure how many people have taken advantage of the previews.
“The only feedback I have
is anecdotal,” Williams said. “They like
what they see.”
He stressed that the system is
simple enough that those who can’t go to a demonstration
shouldn’t be concerned.
“For those voters who have
any sort of curiosity or anxious feelings, there’s
plenty of opportunity to go ahead and [take part in
a demonstration],” Williams said. “If any
voter does not do it and their first experience is on
Election Day, those voters will have no problem voting.”
In the West Side Leader coverage
area, upcoming demonstrations will take place at the
following Akron-Summit County Public Library locations:
Main Branch, 60 S. High
St. in downtown Akron: April 27-28, noon to 5 p.m.,
and April 29, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.;
Norton Branch, 3930 S.
Cleveland-Massillon Road: April 28, noon to 5 p.m.;
West Hill Branch, 807
W. Market St. in Highland Square: April 29, 11 a.m.
to 4 p.m.; and
Branch, 1720 Shatto Ave. in West
Akron: April 29, noon to 5 p.m.
For more information, call the
Board of Elections at (330) 643-5200 or visit www.sum
Above: Voters will
put their paper ballot into the scanner, which will
record the votes onto a memory card.
Poll worker Lynda Williamson,
of West Akron, at left, helps Bath resident Susan Poulos
try her hand at the new Precinct Count Optical Scan
voting equipment during a demonstration at the Fairlawn-Bath
Photos: Ken Crisafi