Election lessons learned


At the dawn of the computer age, programmers learned an enduring lesson: The machine generally does exactly what it is told; its human masters make the mistakes.

Such was the case in last week's primary election, the initial statewide trial for touch-screen voting and scanner-counted ballots in all of Ohio's 88 counties.

Where the new technology was being given its first real workout, a few problems arose, although miscues generally were people-generated and not the fault of the equipment.

Here in Lucas County, we're happy to report, the calm, collected atmosphere at the Board of Elections Tuesday night was in stark contrast to the chaos that prevailed after last November's general election, when touch-screen machines were used en masse for the first time.

This reversal indicates that the board and its staff have learned from their mistakes, both in terms of better training for poll workers and in a more efficient system for collecting the memory cards used in the touch-screen devices and downloading the tally.

This was especially encouraging, considering that the complexity of separate partisan ballots make a primary particularly difficult to administer. The only disappointment was that the results were not made available on the board's Web site, a convenience we've come to expect from past elections.

The situation was different in Cleveland, where election disasters are an old story. Cuyahoga County was using touch-screen machines countywide for the first time, and problems abounded.

Scanners for counting 17,000 absentee ballots were delivered by the manufacturer too late for testing to detect mistakes; paper absentee ballots were printed incorrectly and wouldn't scan properly; about 20 percent of polling places weren't opened on time when poll workers failed to show up; 70 memory cards were lost by workers, and a convoluted system for delivering the cards snarled the vote tally.

The result: a headline in Thursday's Cleveland Plain Dealer that wondered "If the election was Tuesday Why are we still counting?"

Again, these problems were organizational rather than technological failures. "Voters overwhelmingly liked touch-screen voting, and 80 percent of the polling locations opened on time and had no glitches," the newspaper reported.

Some technophobic voters, we concede, will never get used to the newfangled machines. In Youngstown, one exasperated man was reported to have scrawled a write-in vote directly onto the device's screen with a pen.

But, as Lucas County has learned, familiarity with the technology should make the process of voting and counting the results ever easier and more efficient as time goes by.