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Despite slow returns, new machines get good reviews

March 03, 2004|by WANDA T. WILLIAMS

wandaw@herald-mail.com

Washington County voters used computerized voting machines for the first time during Tuesday's primary election, and election results were slow to come in.

By midnight, all 46 precincts had reported.

Charles L. Mobley Jr., president of the Washington County Board of Elections, said results were coming in slowly because a bottleneck formed in the hallway at the Board of Elections office as poll workers arrived with the electronic cards that recorded voters' selections and had to wait for them to be processed.

He said security procedures involving the cards also slowed things down.

"Remember, it's new and it's a lot of extra work for the judges," said Washington County Election Director Dorothy Kaetzel.

Mobley said Tuesday night's turnout, 23 percent, probably was the lowest in his 13 years with the election board.

"We expected a 25 to 30 percent turnout," said Mobley. "I'm pleased to see it up there. The way it was going, I didn't think it was going to be that high this year."

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Many Washington County voters who cast ballots at Hickory Elementary School said they sailed through the computerized voting process.

"Pretty easy to vote and to go back and review what you entered, not hard to figure out," said John Bryan, 26, of Hagerstown. "It was very self-explanatory."

Others, like Willis Fox, 79, said he didn't have a problem understanding the new touch-screen voting machines.

"I think it's good; it's simple to operate," he said.

Kay Britt, 69, agreed the process was simple, but she had some qualms.

"It was very simple, very easy. But when I vote for president, I'd like a paper ballot. I don't trust computers," she said.

Tuesday was the first election in which Washington County voters cast ballots using Diebold's AccuVote-TS computerized voting system. Mobley said the election board launched an aggressive voter-education campaign demonstrating the new voting machines to at least 75 area groups.

On Tuesday, representatives from the company traveled to area precincts to assist with the transition to the new equipment, Kaetzel said. One representative was late arriving at a Hancock precinct, which resulted in a voter waiting until 7:15 a.m., 15 minutes after the polls opened, to cast his ballot, she said.

Kaetzel said she received some telephone calls from voters requesting paper provisional voting ballots. She said the voters, who said they were members of a group called True Vote Maryland, said they didn't trust the new voting machines to count their votes.

Their requests were denied, said Kaetzel, who said state law doesn't allow for the use of provisional ballots for such reasons.

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