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Ireland says election help available for counties

August 30, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The state's head of elections told Jefferson County officials Tuesday that help will be available to local election coordinators before the Nov. 7 general election to avoid some of the problems that cropped up during last May's primary election.

The May primary election was the first time the county used a new paper ballot system and new touch-screen voting machines.

The system involved the use of a new ballot counting machine, but officials had problems getting the machine to operate properly in the final hours before the May 9 primary.

With the machine posing problems, county officials thought they might have to count ballots by hand, although the situation was corrected by the time election night arrived.

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Secretary of State Betty Ireland told Jefferson County Commission members Tuesday that her office will be offering training on the new equipment to county election workers to help them prepare for the general election.

"That is not going to happen again," said Ireland, referring to the problems in May.

Ireland said the problems cropped up because there was not enough time to test the voting equipment.

"We know what the problems were," said Ireland, who appeared before commission members to answer any questions they might have had about the upcoming election.

Commission member Dale Manuel said a smooth-running election process is important to him because some of the local races in November could be close.

"I just want the integrity of the ballot to be there," Manuel said.

Election officials also had problems with voters improperly marking the new paper ballots.

With the new paper ballots, voters were instructed to fill in ovals beside candidates' names.

Despite instructions on the ballot about how to fill in the ovals, some voters made an "x" in the oval, checked it, or sometimes circled the candidate's name, said Jefferson County Clerk Jennifer Maghan, who oversees local elections.

When that occurred, voting officials had to re-create the ballot so it could be properly counted in the new machine, which slowed the counting process during the May primary.

Maghan said Tuesday there will be no efforts to beef up the instruction process for voters using paper ballots.

Besides instructions on the ballot, there are instructions in the precincts, Maghan said.

"The instructions are pretty much everywhere," Maghan said.

If voters have difficulty with the paper ballots, they should use the touch-screen voting machines, Maghan said.

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