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Some New Voting Machines Need Repair PDF  | Print |  Email
By Peter Gartrell, News-Record Writer   
December 22, 2005
This article appeared in The Gillette (WY) News - Record on Decvember 22, 2005.

New voting machines delivered to four Wyoming counties, including Campbell County, will need to be repaired or replaced after a keypad malfunction was discovered by workers testing the equipment last week.

Wyoming becomes the second state in as many weeks to have problems with the AutoMARK voting machine, marketed by Omaha, Neb.-based Election Systems and Software as a handicap-accessible voting system.

Deputy Secretary of State Pat Arp said her office is working with the company to right the problem and that ES&S has already sent four technicians to Uinta County in the southwest corner of the state.

Testers from ES&S found 22 of the 35 machines delivered to Campbell County had malfunctioning keypads, said Campbell County election clerk Cyndi Silbaugh.

A spokeswoman for the company said a wire connected to the keypads came loose during delivery due to rough handling by a third-party shipping company. It also occurred in Crook and Weston counties, Arp said.

South Dakota Secretary of State Chris Nelson said his state had also experienced problems with the AutoMARK machine.

“The problem was there was a ribbon cable that goes from the touch pad to the system,” he said.

The cable came loose during shipping, Nelson said.

Technicians were in South Dakota fixing the problems after shipping and the company was looking into ways to correct the problem, he said. Silbaugh said the machines in Campbell County would be fixed by the end of the month at no cost to the state or county.

“The upside is we've got some time,” Nelson said. “We don't have our first primary until June.”

But because ES&S serves many different states - the company estimates its voting machines are available to 42 percent of registered voters in the United States - the malfunction has the potential to affect many different areas of the country as states move toward complying with the Help America Vote Act.

Congress passed the law in 2002 in response to the contested results from Florida in the 2000 presidential election. It requires states to have voting machines available for each state's first federal election of 2006.

The AutoMARK voting machine is one of the systems marketed as an accessible system, using headphones, Braille and a touch screen with variable font sizes to accommodate hearing and visually-impaired voters.

Kent Kaiser, a spokesman for the Minnesota Secretary of State, which has counties that contract with ES&S, was unaware of the problems with the AutoMARK machine but said he would follow it in the coming weeks.

“The reality of it is that they are supposed to be in place for any (federal) election after Jan. 1 but the reality is that people won't see them until primaries in September,” Kaiser said.

Aug. 22 primaries are the first federal election scheduled to be held in Wyoming.

Kaiser called Elections Systems and Software “a solid company,” while Arp and Nelson both said the company has been very responsive to requests for help with the keypad problem.

“Whether the equipment will be completely replaced or whether parts need to be fixed - a determination has not been made at this time,” Arp said.

Jill Friedman, the ES&S spokeswoman, said the company is developing sturdier shipping containers and would not use third-party carriers again.

“We are also replacing those units, shipping on our own delivery trucks,” she said. “We are not, in the future, going to be using third-party shipping.”

The company delivered machines to North Dakota on its own trucks without a problem, she said.

“We did not have one keypad failure in all 500 units we received in the state,” said Danette Odenbach, HAVA Coordinator for the North Dakota Association of Counties.
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