Problems with new voting machines scattered, minor

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State Attorney General Tom Corbett last night said the state has received a letter complaining of irregularities in voting machines in more than a dozen Pennsylvania counties during today's elections.

Mr. Corbett, putting in an appearance at the campaign headquarters of Republican gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann, said Lawrence Tabas, general counsel for the Republican committee, had written to Secretary of State Pedro Cortes complaining of glitches in the voting machines. A copy of the letter was forwarded to Mr. Corbett.

According to Mr. Corbett, the complaint says that voters complained that, after casting votes for Republican Senator Rick Santorum and Mr. Swann, they saw their votes switch on the electronic screen from the Republican candidates to Democrats Robert P. Casey Jr. and incumbent Gov. Edward Rendell.

Last night, Sen. Santorum's campaign also complained of voter fraud in the election, citing similar allegations.

Should Mr. Cortes, an appointee of Gov. Rendell, find reason for further investigation, he can refer the matter to the individual district attorneys in the affected counties, or to the office of Mr. Corbett, a Republican.

While expressing skepticism about whether yesterday's problems, if they existed, constituted fraud, Mr. Corbett expressed reservations about the handling of electronic voting machines at his own polling place in Allegheny County. Mr. Corbett said he was concerned that screens, blocking voters from view as they cast their ballots, were not in place.

Scattered problems with voting machines were reported in Allegheny County and across the state yesterday, but elections officials said there were no serious malfunctions with the new touch-screen systems.

Twenty electronic voting machines were removed from polling places across Allegheny County yesterday morning because of technical glitches, and a polling site in Monroeville resorted to paper ballots for 45 minutes, elections officials said.

In some precincts, the balky machines were replaced with backups. In others, poll workers made do with the machines available. The county has 4,600 touch-screen machines in use and 100 in reserve.

The county hired 200 "rovers" to scout for problems and had 56 technicians on call to respond to problems that arose, said Mark Wolosik, county elections manager.

Voters were casting ballots on electronic machines for the first time in every Pennsylvania county as wary election watchdogs closely monitored the polls for equipment glitches and other problems.

The Department of State, which includes the state elections office, reported minor problems as polls opened.

In Allegheny County, some machines were not "zeroing out," or clearing the slate to start tallying votes, Mr. Wolosik said. The zero-vote count serves as a baseline to ensure no votes are stored on the machines before official voting begins.

Between 7 and 8 a.m. the county's election call center received about 150 calls. By late morning the calls had trickled down to 27 per hour midday, Mr. Wolosik said. He considers the new machines a success.

Mr. Wolosik called voter turnout brisk despite scattered rain showers in parts of the county. He said he anticipated 52 percent voter participation.

Naomi Stephenson, manager of voter registration, said about 35 lines at the county elections call center rang nonstop in the morning and evening hours, mostly with callers asking where their polling places were. The center fielded more calls than she recalled in any recent mid-term election.

Some reported problems had nothing to do with faulty machines.

Common Pleas Judge Beth A. Lazzara held several election-related hearings yesterday morning, according to county Solicitor Mike Wojcik. In one case, she addressed complaints of voter intimidation at three or four polling sites in the North Hills, including one in Franklin Park.

Voters said a partisan group set up tables outside the polling sites and were "interrogating" voters before they went in, asking whether they had proper identification. The judge issued an order for all such activity to cease and sent sheriff's deputies to patrol the sites in question.

In Westmoreland County, a handful of polling places were late in opening because of programming errors in the machines, said Ted Kopas, chief of staff to county commission Chairman Tom Bayla. The problem was solved and all polling places were open by mid-morning.

Polls were ordered to remain open an extra hour in Lebanon and Lancaster counties because of glitches with the electronic machines. Paper ballots were being used until the glitches were fixed.

Rebecca Droke, Post-Gazette
Olivia Walker casts her ballot on an electronic voting machine during the mid-term election at the District 1 Ward 2 polling place at the Roosevelt Building, Downtown.
Click photo for larger image.

Paula Reed Ward contributed to this report. Gabrielle Banks can be reached at gbanks@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1370. Dennis Roddy can be reached at droddy@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1965.


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