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County hopes to cure vote-counting delays

Thursday, January 18, 2007
Pioneer Press
by JOHN HUSTON Staff Writer

For two elections in a row, Cook County's electronic voting system has resulted in long tabulation delays, but officials say problems have been identified and changes are being made.
Cook County Clerk David Orr, whose office runs the elections process in the county's suburbs, responded Tuesday to a report detailing the problems in tabulating votes on Nov. 7.
Orr and a "blue-ribbon committee" he organized to analyze the election process said the bulk of the problems were due to the equipment purchased from Sequoia Voting Systems.
He also emphasized the accuracy of the votes has not been called into question, only the time taken to report them.
Technological problems plagued the county at every turn of the tabulation process, according to a report from Diamond Management and Technology Consultants.
Votes are electronically transmitted from the precincts to Orr's office downtown. Only 56 percent of suburban precincts could successfully transmit their totals.
As a backup, all voting records are physically taken to one of 19 regional receiving stations. If there was a problem at the precinct level the tallies can be retransmitted.
The problem on Nov. 7 was that the information provided to the receiving stations showed that nearly all the votes needed to be resent. The speed was further delayed because Cook County officials ignored a recommendation to transmit via phone lines, transmitting over a wireless cell phone connection instead.
More problems took place at the County Clerk's Office downtown where the computer system used to compile the votes was "logjammed" because of a decision to count early and absentee votes at the same time as those coming in from precincts and receiving stations. The computer system was receiving more data than it could handle.
Twelve hours later
While 90 percent of Chicago's results were reported by 11 p.m. on election night, it wasn't until 12 hours later that the same percentage of suburban votes were tallied.
Votes were not lost or counted twice, Orr said, but the counting was slow.
Chicago and Cook County paid a combined $50 million to Sequoia Voting systems for electronic voting equipment.
To fix the problem, Sequoia must fix the precinct transmitters and the central server software used to tally the votes. Cook County vows to use phone lines at its receiving stations and count early votes before polls close on Election Day.
Before the November election, Orr made assurances that the March primary, which was plagued by vote-count problems, would not be relived, citing extensive training of polling place workers.
On Tuesday he said the training paid off.
"We did an enormous amount of training after the March primary," Orr said. "The judges did a very good job. They did things right on election night, they did things properly, it just didn't connect."
Cook County is the only major government in the country that transmits vote tallies directly from the precinct place to the central computer, so there are bound to be problems while perfecting the process, said Jack Elaine, president of Sequoia Voting Systems.
But, ironically, Sequoia does contract with one government that uses a similar process to Cook County -- Venezuela, which successfully transmitted 8 million votes in two hours in a recent election, Elaine said.
"I've got to believe that if we can do it in Venezuela, we can do it here in Chicago," he said.


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