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Published: Wednesday, 11/8/2006

Ohio's 1st electronic general election had only a few scattered glitches

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Glitches? You bet. It wouldn't be Election Day without 'em.

But despite rain that was heavy at times, a strong turnout that included lines at many polling places, computer malfunctions, some confusion over the new state ID law, and a ballot long enough to tie up the fastest speed readers, Ohio's first general election with electronic voting statewide went fairly smoothly yesterday.

Well, sort of.

Workers at one Lucas County polling site overloaded electric power strips, causing a temporary outage. The electronic voting machines were rebooted and eventually put back into service after a delay.

In Ottawa County, elections officials were scrambling to print extra paper ballots because of a larger-than-expected turnout. Director JoAnn Friar said the board had enough ballots printed for "over a 60 percent turnout," but began running low yesterday afternoon.

While some Ottawa County voters had to wait for additional ballots to be printed, she said anyone who was in line to vote by the time the polls closed at 7:30 p.m. would be allowed to vote.

But the biggest problems were reported in Cuyahoga County, where the primary election results in May were delayed for six days. A judge today ordered some county precincts to remain open until 9 p.m., an extra 90 minutes, because they failed to open on time.

Many area sites had would-be voters waiting outside when polls officially opened at 6:30 a.m. in Ohio and 7 a.m. in Michigan. Ron Carpenter, a poll worker for a Perrysburg Township precinct that was relocated this year to Perrysburg Junior High School, said there was a line of about 20 people waiting outside the Wood County polling spot. It was the first time Perrysburg schools have closed to students for Election Day; teachers had an in-service day.

Nevertheless, voter turnout in the Toledo area and statewide was expected to be one of the largest ever for a midterm election. More than 40 percent of Lucas County's voters toughed out whatever obstacles they may have encountered to cast their ballots.

"No big meltdowns. Glitch here, glitch there," was the synopsis delivered by a relieved Jill Kelly, director of the Lucas County Board of Elections.

She said Lucas County seemed destined to process an usually high number of absentee ballots too.

Lucas County had 23,000 requests for absentee ballots. The norm in the past was 13,000. It was not immediately known how many of those 23,000 were returned for processing, though, she said.

Extensive waits were reported in Waterville, although that polling site - and many others - attributed delays that were at least in part because of the size of the ballot.

Those who chose the large print option for Lucas County ballots got as many as 24 pages to glean.

"It's taken a while just because it's a big ballot," said Larry Bialorucki, a longtime poll worker who was assigned as a troubleshooter to the Lucas County Recreation Center in Maumee.

Three of nine voting machines were taken out of service at a Monclova Township polling site, resulting in waits of more than an hour until early afternoon. Even by 2 p.m., the wait was about 40 minutes long. Poll worker Bob Conley said it was busy all day and didn't let up.

Ms. Kelly said she checked out scattered reports around Lucas County of anxious people who were kept waiting outside past 6:30 a.m. because of tardy key-holders or misplaced keys. But she said none panned out.

That didn't stop her from issuing a blanket apology just in case.

"We can't control the whole universe. We don't own the polling locations; we're guests," she said. "If that happened, we apologize."

Poll workers are instructed to use paper ballots if they run into obstacles that can't be resolved within a few minutes, Ms. Kelly said. Some people, once inside and able to vote, wondered why the electronic voting machines give instructions that appear to indicate they can get a paper copy of their votes printed but then didn't dispense any paper.

Ms. Kelly said the button is a prompt for the voter to allow the machine to print the votes on a scroll that stays within the machine. The hard copies are used as backups for elections officials only, she explained.

Dawn Christensen, who is blind and the executive director of the Sight Center of Northwest Ohio, was disappointed when she went to the Margaret Hunt Senior Center in South Toledo. She said there was no backup for an inoperable machine that has a headset that allows a blind person to vote independently and privately.

After waiting about an hour, she said she had her husband read the ballot to her and cast her vote on the touch screen. She said she left a message to talk with Ms. Kelly about the problem, and plans to offer to help train county poll workers in how to deal with blind voters.

Debbie Hazard, director of the Wood County elections board, said there were no serious problems there, either.

The same went for Sandusky County. Lisa Hartley, deputy elections board director for that county, said she had not heard of any major tie-ups.

But one voter, Jane Garling, interim superintendent of Woodmore Local Schools, said she saw about 150 people in line as of 8 a.m.

Statewide, people complained about getting provisional ballots for varying reasons and about a variety of other glitches, from slow-starting voting machines to delayed poll openings.

It was Ohio's first election in which voters in all 88 counties used mostly touch-screen machines or paper ballots read by optical scanners.

Old West End voters Wilbur Robinson, 45, and Annie Kerg, 22, said the process went smoothly. "It was self-explanatory and pretty easy," Ms. Kerg said.

In Michigan, officials in both Monroe and Lenawee counties reported favorable turnouts.

Monroe County Clerk Geri Allen said extra ballots were sent to Whiteford Township because voter turnout was so great officials there were "afraid they were going to run out of ballots."

Blade staff writers Erika Ray, Ignazio Messina, JC Reindl, Jim Provance, Clyde Hughes, Mike Sigov, and Jennifer Feehan and The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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