Pennsylvania to probe electronic vote problems

Only three of eight counties using the machines had difficulties election day.
MERCER, Pa. -- The Pennsylvania Department of State will examine an electronic voting system that plagued balloting in three counties and led to the resignation of an election director, agency officials said.
Voters using the new machines in Mercer, Greene and Beaver counties on Nov. 2 complained that their votes were voided when they tried to review their choices, which led to long lines at some balloting locations.
Eight counties used the same machines made by UniLect, based in Dublin, Calif., but the voting difficulties were limited to the three western Pennsylvania counties.
"These machines should be reviewed by technical experts," said Michael Coulter, who chairs Mercer County's independent panel investigating voting difficulties. "And really it's the Department of State that would have the resources to provide their own technical review."
Coulter's eight-person panel will meet at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Mercer County Courthouse. The meeting is open to the public.
Misprogrammed electronic voting machines malfunctioned in 4th Congressional District precincts in Shenango Township, West Middlesex, Wheatland, Farrell and Hermitage.
May deadline
The review in the three counties will be completed in advance of the May 17 primary, said Brian McDonald, a spokesman for the Department of State.
"It's not just a review to figure out what went wrong during the election," McDonald said. "We will be taking a more general look at the system rather than what occurred just on Nov. 2."
The investigation will include a look at significantly lower vote counts recorded in three counties in the presidential contest, he said.
The director of elections in Mercer County resigned last month as a result of the confusion.
James Bennington had worked for the county since 1982 and in 1998 became the director of elections, a part-time position.
The independent panel will recommend that the director of elections position be changed to a full-time job, Coulter said.
It remains unclear what the state plans to do in regard to machines made by UniLect. The company's voting machines were certified by the state in 1994.
$1 million price tag
Mercer County spent nearly $1 million to install the system in 2001.
"That's another bridge we've got to cross," McDonald said. "Those things will come into play once the proceedings take place."
The independent panel will release its recommendations to the commissioners by Feb. 1.
Although the panel is still gathering information, Coulter said it is ready with some recommendations.
The panel will recommend more training for elections workers, Coulter said.
"We believe that every worker should have at least one hour of training," Coulter said, adding that many of the poll workers have little or no training. "They need to know guidelines and they need to discuss what to do in various situations that might come up."
Coulter said he'd like to see the county raise the pay rate for elections workers. The judge of elections gets $100 for working Election Day, a task that can turn into a 12- to 15-hour shift.
"You won't get rich doing it," Coulter said. "But [if you increase the pay] you might attract someone who might not otherwise consider it."
The panel will recommend that Mercer County launch a public relations campaign to bring in additional poll workers.
"I would like to see something like, 'People fought and died for the right to vote -- can you give a day?'," Coulter said. "I would like to see us go to civic organizations and ask for help there. These are people who want to do public service and here's a way to do it."
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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