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No glitches this time, elections officials say



Published: Mon, October 30, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



The amount of time for training for poll workers doubled.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County Board of Elections officials say they are taking steps to make sure that the Nov. 7 general election isn't a repeat performance of the mistake-ridden May 2 primary.

During the primary, about half of the poll workers received the wrong training because the county's election machine vendor, Elections Systems & amp; Software of Omaha, Neb., provided the wrong training manual and the person sent by the company to help with training didn't know what he was doing, said Thomas McCabe, elections board director.

Because of the poor training, poll workers in about 25 to 30 precincts had troubling closing the election machines with the new paper trail, McCabe said.

Other problems with the primary not related to training included the delivery of the wrong voting cartridge to the elections board from a precinct; the scanner machine used to count paper absentee ballots not working, initially failing to count votes in a Sebring precinct; and double-counting votes in a Springfield precinct.

The problems led to a lengthy delay in releasing results after the polls closed at 7:30 p.m. for the May primary.

What's being done

To correct the problems from May, the board is holding two-hour training sessions with poll workers, instead of the one-hour classes previously held in preparation for elections, and is doing it in smaller groups rather than having all the workers receive their training at once. Also, the training includes hands-on demonstrations with the machines.

"We don't want you to be there until 8:30, 9 at night [closing the election machines] and we know you don't want to be there until 8:30, 9 at night," Richard Nagel, an elections board clerk who leads the sessions, told a group of poll workers during a training session. "It wasn't your fault [in May]. We didn't give you good training the last time. We'll give you a [free] pass for May, but we won't do that for this election because you're going to be properly trained."

At the beginning of a training session, Nagel could see the confusion on the faces of poll workers as he reviewed old elections rules and discussed new ones, such as no-fault absentee balloting.

"You guys are making me nervous," he said. "I'm seeing a lot of blank stares. I'd ask if there's any questions, but I'm afraid to."

But after showing the poll workers how to operate the machines, Nagel said he is confident they understand how to run the election.

"We needed a refresher, and we needed to know about the changes," said Shirley Houk of Poland Township, who's been a poll worker for the past eight years. "It's better to learn it this way than when we have a room full of people waiting to vote. It's nice to have a small, intimate setting."

Dorothy Velker of Boardman, a poll worker for the past nine years, said the longer session was a good idea.

"Many of us had problems in May, so learning this on the machines is very helpful," she said.

Second thoughts

June Marion of Poland Township, whose first time as a poll worker will be Nov. 7, said when she first heard Nagel discussing what was needed, she was having second thoughts about the job, which pays $85. Poll workers also receive $20 for the training sessions.

"In the beginning, I wasn't sure I wanted to do it," Marion said. "I feel comfortable after the instructions and the hands-on."

Because of the problems in the primary with ES & amp;S, county election officials decided it was best to handle the training themselves, McCabe said. Much of the sessions' focus is on opening and closing the election machines, he said.

The elections board voted last month to eliminate 25 voting precincts to save money -- about $1,000 for each precinct -- and to put less of a strain on finding qualified poll workers, an ongoing problem, McCabe said.

Voter privacy

The board also took steps to ensure better voter privacy. A state requirement to add a paper trail to the touch-screen voting systems beginning with the May primary forced the county to place the voting systems in a larger holding case.

Because of that, covers on the top of the machines were eliminated, and the side covers were replaced. The side cover replacements made it easy for others, including poll workers and those waiting to vote, to see ballots being cast, and the elections board received several complaints, McCabe said.

The machines will not face the poll workers' tables and instead will be back to back, angled away from the tables and toward walls, and people can adjust the side flaps for privacy, McCabe said.

skolnick@vindy.com




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