Cuyahoga's electronic system falters even in low-key poll


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Joe Guillen

Plain Dealer Reporter


Late-night computer glitches had Cuyahoga County wobbling to the end of Tuesday's election.


The vote was the kind of low-turnout, ballot-lite poll perfect to test Cuyahoga's electronic system -- one that's guaranteed to be among the most-watched during next year's presidential election.


But a 20-minute shutdown slowed counting around 9:30 p.m. Then a half-hour crash around 10:40 p.m. stalled tabulations again. At that point, the board changed its procedures and backed up its vote totals every 45 minutes.


By 11:30 p.m., about 43 percent of precincts were counted.


Cuyahoga County Elections Director Jane Platten said she didn't know why earlier simulations of the machines hadn't detected the glitch, which was the same for each shutdown. The simulations are no substitute for the real thing, she said.


Even after the first shutdown, Platten said the county's performance was a good sign for the 2008 elections. "If today was next year, I'd be very happy," she said before the second crash. "Because the issues that were presented to us today we were able to handle quickly, and they were resolvable in an efficient manner."


Turnout was less than 15 percent of actual voters, as only a smattering of candidates and issues were on most local ballots. While things started smoothly at most polls, it was hard to judge how Cuyahoga managed the day.


About 20 percent of polling places hadn't sent their results downtown three hours after polls closed because they were still completing a deliberate protocol that included packing up electronic equipment and sending the electronic cards that collected votes on to the board's Cleveland headquarters.


All 583 polling locations opened on time at 6:30 a.m. However, poll workers and tech nicians didnít show up at some locations, forcing voters to use paper ballots while the touch- screen machines were set up.


Poll-worker problems occurred mostly in cities that hadnít had any elections since last Novem ber, including Cleveland and Brooklyn, Platten said. She pre dicted those cities would strug gle, while others with municipal elections earlier this year would manage better.


Platten said Tuesday night she wasnít sure how many workers failed to show or how many poll ing places had setup problems.


Tuesdayís election was important to show the Board of Elections could pull off an election without significant hang-ups. The countyís first election with electronic voting equipment in May 2006 was labeled a debacle after results were delayed almost a week. The election last Novem ber had a more positive outcome, but each election carries uncertainties.


There were other problems Tuesday. A handful of voters called The Plain Dealer to say they never received absentee ballots they had applied for last month. ďIím 84 years old, and Iíve never not been able to vote before today,Ē said Caroline Berkman of Beachwood, who hadnít received her absentee ballot.


Voters in one Bay Village ward showed up at their expected poll ing place ó Lawrence School on Wallings Road ó only to find school in session and no note about where to cast their ballots, witnesses said.


Platten said she didnít have an immediate answer about specific cases.


There were surreal moments as well Tuesday. Two election workers were mugged on their lunch hour as they left a down town Cleveland KFC; a power outage in Shaker Heights had poll workers scrambling for flashlights (voting machines stayed on via battery power); and a voter performed CPR on an eld erly Parma voter who collapsed at a polling place.


Plain Dealer reporter Michael Scott contributed to this story.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:, 216-999-4675

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