Voting Machine Problems Widespread

USA Today passes on early reports of difficulties in implementing new electronic voting machines:

Old Lady Voting And the photo accompanying the piece says more than •In Indiana’s Marion County, about 175 of 914 precincts turned to paper because poll workers didn’t know how to run the machines, said Marion County Clerk Doris Ann Sadler.

• Election officials in Delaware County, Ind., planned to seek a court order to extend voting after an apparent computer error prevented voters from casting ballots in 75 precincts. Delaware County Clerk Karen Wenger said the cards that activate the machines were programmed incorrectly. “We are working with precincts one-by-one over the telephone to get the problem fixed,” Wenger said.

• Illinois officials were swamped with calls from voters complaining that poll workers did not know how to operate new electronic equipment

• In Ohio, some machines wouldn’t function.”We got five machines — one of them’s got to work,” said Willette Scullank, a troubleshooter from the Cuyahoga County, Ohio, elections board.

• In Florida, voting was briefly delayed at four districts because of either mixed up ballots or electronic activators being unintentionally wiped out, according to Mary Cooney, spokeswoman for the Broward County Supervisor of Elections. Voters were forced to use paper ballots after an electronic machine broke in the Jacksonville suburb of Orange Park.

Nothing systematic here that should impact the election nor any obvious reason to suspect foul play. And there are going to be polling place difficulties no matter what system we use, as millions of people show up to do something they do no more than every couple of years. And the photo accompanying the piece probably explains more than the bullet points.

Still, it does point to some serious problems with the way we actually run elections. Between having elections in the middle of the work week, requiring people to vote near their homes rather than their place of business, and deciding that everyone needs to be able to walk to their polling place (presuming they’re home and not at work) we’ve created major obstacles.

We need a ridiculous number of people to volunteer for election duty–people who are only needed a handful of times a year at most. Given the vicissitudes of Tuesday voting, they will overwhelmingly be retirees, easily the least technologically savvy cohort. Considering how hard it is to get people to volunteer, one can hardly expect that they show up for multiple training sessions ahead of time, either.

To further complicate things, we seem to change the method of balloting every election cycle, making it a “new” experience every time. That’s even more problematic considering that older voters are far more likely to vote than their younger cohorts.

I voted in Virginia this morning, using their electronic balloting system for the first time. It was ridiculously easy to use for someone, like myself, who always banked at ATMs and had a personal computer for years. Then again, so is a paper ballot and a magic marker.

UPDATE: AP has another story. Buried several paragraphs deep:

”This is largely what I expected,” said Doug Chapin, director of, a nonpartisan group that tracks voting changes. ”With as much change as we had, expecting things to go absolutely smoothly at the beginning of the day is too optimistic.”


UPDATE: Hotline is tracking various reports of irregularities. Their high level analysis: “We’ve checked in with the national parties, and aside from minor, sporadic tangles and anecdotal evidence of high turnout, there are no major national voting problems.”

UPDATE: hilzoy:

Meanwhile, the Republican Governor of South Carolina has been turned away for not having proper ID, a voting machine wouldn’t accept Rep. Jean Schmidt’s vote, Missouri’s Secretary of State was told she needed a photo ID when she didn’t, and there were problems, some quite serious, all over.

[UPDATE: Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) turned away too… END UPDATE]

This is just not acceptable. We need to have a voting system we can feel confident of, with rules that are transparent, laws that are enforced, and machines that just plain work.

No dispute from me on that. None whatsoever. But unless we start voting on the weekend or figure out how to create a reasonably fraud-proof system that isn’t so labor intensive, I don’t see any easy solutions.

Glenn Reynolds has some thoughts on this at TCS, too.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2006, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. madmatt says:

    I would say a 20% failure rate in indiana is a pretty widespread problem.
    In ohio machines don’t work and you don’t care because they are in dem districts…things were so poorly run the phone system was so swamped as to shut down….just an endorsement for blackwell.
    Jean schmidt couldn’t cast her vote…guess she is a closet dem making things up!

  2. James Joyner says:


    There’s a lot of incompetence at polling places for reasons I’ve described above (and likely many others).

    I’ve had to come back and vote later before even with simple paper ballots because there was a problem with the lockbox that the finished ballots went into. Jean Schmidt can do that, too. Does it suck? Yes. Is it evidence of fraud? No.

  3. Steven Plunk says:

    Here in Oregon I voted nearly two weeks ago through the mail. Though not a proponent of high turnout (it usually means people with no idea of what’s happening vote) I would say I favor this vote by mail system. As long as proper safeguards are in place to prevent fraud this should be a model for the country.

  4. Anderson says:

    This crap is inexcusable 6 years after 2000, and I don’t think that Democrats are silly to suspect that there’s a vested interest in failing to fix things.

    See this item at TPM:

    My wife just came home from voting here in Webster Groves MO. She used the electronic touch-screen voting system. . . She touched Claire McCaskill’s picture and the machine recorded a vote for Jim Talent. She then called one of the people running the polling center who helped her correct the problem. My wife then had to call the person over another time after it recorded her vote a Republican again. In her frustration she asked the person who was responsible for the design of this system. The polling person leaned in very close to my wife and whispered, “We’re f—-d.”

    If this kind of thing is true, then where’s the accountability? How can we trust that any close election is correctly decided?

    “Oh, but close elections have always been subject to chance.” Whatever. We could have a damn sight better system than the one we’ve got, if we cared to do so. Why don’t we?

  5. sed says:

    Gannet is going to destroy all bloggers.

  6. James Joyner says:

    Anderson: I’m incredibly dubious of those kind of anecdotes, frankly, since there’s no way to verify them–let alone analyze whether the person actually voted properly.

  7. In Texas, we have a couple weeks of early voting. They have about 1/3 or less the number of polling places, but because it is electronic you can vote anywhere (e.g. close to work vs close to home). The tend to be located in places voters go more often (e.g. grocery store vs elementary school). They are generally open 7 am to 7 pm, 7 days a week (I think they start after noon on Sunday) so you can stop in before work, during lunch, after work, on the week end, etc). The last day for early voting is the Friday before the election.

    Less chance for fraud (they scan a non-picture voter registration ID card or your drivers license) than a mail in ballot. If you don’t have the card, they will mail you one (which at least after the fact lets you know someone voted in your name).

    The down side is that they require more poll volunteer time. The upside is that by the time the election day rolls around, you have had a couple weeks of testing things out and training for the poll workers. The hiccups described here may be seen on the first day of early voting, but aren’t likely to have an impact because any one delayed has so many chances to make it up later.

  8. Anderson says:

    Anecdotes aren’t evidence, but if it’s true, then I imagine it’s a serious enough problem that we’ll hear it confirmed elsewhere.

    This whole electronic-voting thing is *such* a transparent ploy to put lots of gov’t $$$ into the pockets of Diebold & others … it’s preposterous. And evidently a failure of democracy, since we put up with it even after 2000.

  9. Problems plague voting machines nationwide…

    Programming errors and inexperience dealing with electronic voting machines frustrated poll workers …

  10. This just in. As of 10:31am, both parties are saying “aside from minor, sporadic tangles and anecdotal evidence of high turnout, there are no major national voting problems.”

    But remember, since there is a chance that the GOP could hold their majority in both chambers, start laying the ground work early for “the election was stolen”. There is absolutely no reason for the democrats to do any sort of internal assessment of the positions as to why they may not win the election. Only the republicans should look at where they might have gone wrong.

  11. Rick DeMent says:

    Funny thing is that the scanner machines where you fill out a paper ballot by filling ovals and then scan then through a reader is pretty solid technology, it leaves a paper trail, and it tabulates the vote, and sends a warning if the ballot is filled out incorrectly. But Those weren’t good enough, no had to get the fancy black box machines in that no one trusts.

    I’m glad our precinct keep the scanners.

  12. James Joyner says:

    Rick: I don’t get it, either. That’s clearly a better system all the way around. But post-2000, there was a HUGE push to go electronic for reasons I never quite understood.

    Getting rid of punch-cards? Absolutely. Paper? Why?

  13. Triumph says:

    We need a ridiculous number of people to volunteer for election duty—people who are only needed a handful of times a year at most. Given the vicissitudes of Tuesday voting, they will overwhelmingly be retirees, easily the least technologically savvy cohort.

    The solution: outsource. Once the war is over, maybe we can get Kellogg Brown and Root to manage the nation’s elections.

  14. Anderson says:

    there was a HUGE push to go electronic for reasons I never quite understood.

    Why not? See above:

    A: This whole electronic-voting thing is *such* a transparent ploy to put lots of gov’t $$$ into the pockets of Diebold & others

    Is there anything implausible about that? Does anyone doubt lobbying by Diebold to get this electronic-voting trend going?

  15. paladin says:

    Let’s hear it for Nancy Pelosi who said that if the Democrats don’t win, it’s because the Republicans cheated. Hey Nancy, way to delegitimize our elections! It really helps voter turnout—-NOT!

    Of course, you’ll never hear about how the liberal union organization ACORN is under investigation for voter fraud. Doesn’t count! Only Republicans suppress votes and commit voter fraud. Har!Har!

  16. Bandit says:

    ‘Voting Machine Problems Widespread’

    ‘poll workers didn’t know how to run the machines’

    You’re conflating two problems and in doing so creating a false impression that there is a problem with the machines and not the training

  17. Rick says:

    During the years that these defective machines were developed, three of the e-voting vendors, Diebold, E S & S, and Hart Intercivic, all hired foreign tech personnel using the federal government’s controversial H-1B visa program. Many H-1B workers do not have the skills that they claim to have, and many have not undergone proper background checks. These workers will accept significantly less pay than Americans, and they are indentured servants who cannot change jobs as easily as Americans can, so they are very popular with cost-cutting executives.

    A fourth vendor, Sequoia, was recently purchased by Smartmatic, a Venezuelan firm which does quite a bit of programming work offshore.

    I am afraid that U.S. elections are no longer under U.S. control.

  18. Why electronic voting

    One advantage to electronic voting over paper is the precinct level capability of different ballots. In Texas, we can have voter decisions control at the precinct level. An example is on a precinct by precinct basis, parts of Dallas are ‘wet’ and parts are ‘dry’. The decision was made based on precinct level votes.

    In the early voting, being able to have a different ballot based on precinct lets you vote at any polling place. This is especially important in the primary voting when offices such as precinct chair are decided.

    I wouldn’t have a problem with scantron type voting, but it would make it more difficult for early voting here in Texas. But then again, we don’t have the same problems on election day because the early voting trains the poll workers and works out the kinks well in advance of the rush.

  19. Anderson says:

    The actual CO voter guide, if it be such, doesn’t match the “If there is no fraud, allege it” summary, which itself misleads by being placed in quotes, as if those words were from the guide.

    What the guide says is, if there’s no sign of fraud, publicize potential frauds pre-emptively, i.e., to discourage their use or to warn voters on whom they might be used.

    Apparently, even brief contact with Ken Mehlman is dangerous to one’s candor.

  20. Boyd says:

    Just an observation, but you seem to be in a bad mood today, Anderson. I hope things are okay.

  21. legion says:

    Let’s hear it for Nancy Pelosi who said that if the Democrats don’t win, it’s because the Republicans cheated. Hey Nancy, way to delegitimize our elections! It really helps voter turnout—-NOT!

    Really, Paladin? And how is this different that the President himself saying that if the Republicans don’t win, the terrorists do?

    It’s one thing to tell people your opponents are _wrong_, but when you take the path of the GOP these last few years & characterize anyone who disagrees with you as overtly _evil_, you doom yourself. You can no longer afford to ever make, let alone admit, any mistake at any level, no matter how obvious, since this would be de facto giving in to evil. Does this sound at all familiar?

  22. Anderson says:

    Hm. I didn’t *think* I was in a bad mood, but I see what you mean. The Mehlman remark was intended to be funny, but the tone doesn’t come through very well, does it?

    Anxiety, I guess, the deserved fate of anyone who’s dumb enough to pin his hopes on the Democratic Party’s ability to win elections …

  23. John Burgess says:

    I had no problem voting with the Election Systems & Software touch-screen machines in FL today. Interestingly, one of the issues on the ballot was whether to replace the current system (which does provide a hardcopy of each vote for recount purposes, but no copy for the voter) with a paper ballot/electronic scan system.

    The Supervisor of Elections sent out a fact sheet on the issue which clearly laid out the costs involved.

    I’ve been happy with the system in Sarasota Co. for the past couple of elections. Even the much-older coots in line seemed to have no problem in using the system.

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