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New machines, poor training slowed count
Precincts uncounted even after Wednesday

Thursday, March 23, 2006
Chicago Tribune

By James Janega, John McCormick and David Kidwell, Tribune staff reporters. Tribune staff reporters Josh Noel, Carlos Sadovi, Courtney Flynn, Charles Sheehan, Hal Dardick, Tonya Maxwell, David Mendell

As ballot counting stretched into a second night, judges and election officials on Wednesday blamed confusion in the primary election on vast numbers of poll workers who had not been trained for Cook County's complicated new electronic voting system.

Most of them had barely studied machines that scanned paper ballots or enabled touch-screen voting. Many didn't see those devices--or the one used to combine and send their information--until Election Day.

Langdon Neal, chairman of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, further said that 4,000 of Chicago's 14,000 election judges attended no training and instead relied on a judge's manual that was sent in the mail and was written in a complicated and confusing manner.

Training for county judges emphasized videos and not hands-on instruction. None of the 9,600 election judges in suburban Cook County had ever touched the scanning device used to process paper ballots, said Cook County Clerk David Orr.

Neither training effort was sufficient, officials said.

"They just didn't know what to do," Neal said. "They really weren't capable with one three-hour training session to do this. Our judges needed more than one election cycle to figure this stuff out."

The muddle snowballed into marathon ballot counting for the primary election that stalled again Wednesday. The counting will continue Thursday morning, during which referendum proposals far down the ballot may finally be settled amid lingering questions on how the election's tabulation had gone so wrong.

By the November general election, city and county election officials say they may install lead judges in each precinct, with extra training, more pay and the responsibility of training other judges. Because of Tuesday's problems, all city poll workers, who made between $100 and $175, will be retrained, Neal added.

"The way it worked in the class and the way it worked in real life was different," said Bill Anderson, 58, a 38th Ward election judge who took a three-hour class last week at Wright Junior College.

"We were told it was going to work as `A, B, C, D,' and it didn't happen like that," he said.

The election judges endured glitches, missing equipment and pervasive questions surrounding Cook County's $54 million electronic voting system, which bogged down on its inaugural run.

But judges' headaches during the day were nothing compared to that night, when a second wave of technical problems arose while combining votes from two different voting methods and trying to transmit them on a third. The equipment is made by California-based Sequoia Voting Systems.

Amid a tumbling backlog of voting data, returns were pushed so late that many judges simply packed up their polling places late Tuesday or early Wednesday and went home. In the confusion, county and city officials had no idea which precincts were accounted for and which were not, or where records of their votes were.

At noon Wednesday, Chicago was missing 252 memory cartridges, 93 from machines that scanned in paper ballots and 159 from touch screens. County officials couldn't find 162 memory cartridges from suburban precincts--68 from optical-scanning machines and 94 for touch-screen balloting.

The problems led midday to the sight of Cook County Director of Elections Clem Balanoff--his tie loosened and eyes bleary--rifling through blue duffel bags at a county warehouse for precinct returns for uncounted votes on missing memory cartridges.

The frantic count took a pause Wednesday afternoon when Forrest Claypool, Democratic challenger for Cook County Board president, conceded defeat by a razor-thin margin to incumbent John Stroger. He said slow vote reporting had delayed the outcome but didn't influence it.

With the county's highest-profile race settled, attention turned to others.

Residents in Bellwood, for example, are waiting to learn about a $14 million referendum proposal for a new library. At the end of counting Wednesday, results were roughly tied with 62 percent of the vote in and counting to resume Thursday.

"It's still a jump ball," said Mayor Frank Pasquale.

There were dozens of other referendum proposals on the ballot, some close, their outcomes equally unknown.
Tuesday's counting had continued into the wee hours Wednesday, with election officials and supporters of candidates in close races literally wandering in the dark when lights snapped off in the Cook County Building at 69 W. Washington St.

They began again in the afternoon, dogged by doubts and fatigue, while confusion led to concerns of possible fraud.

The worries were met by official assurances that--while nobody knew where all the ballots and computerized memory cartridges were--they were most assuredly not lost.

"I don't trust that," said U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), a Stroger supporter.

"This is Chicago. This is Cook County. We created vote fraud, vote scandal and stealing votes. We created that mechanism. It became an art form."

No real evidence of wrongdoing emerged Wednesday.

The supplier's voting system has had technical glitches elsewhere, ranging from hard-drive crashes in Florida to a single precinct holding up Nevada's primary election results.

On Feb. 10, the Illinois State Board of Elections approved the equipment anyway, as concerns mounted that Cook County would not be able to implement an even more complicated and untested version of the system within six weeks.

"It was not helpful that the certification process took so long to get done," said Paul DeGregorio, chairman of the federal Election Assistance Commission, formed after the controversial 2000 presidential election to promote new voting technology.

"You want more time to introduce this equipment to your own staff and to the poll workers," he said.

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