Reporter'S Notebook: Excitement, Fear on the E-Vote Trail

By Marc Ferranti
Tue, November 04, 2008

IDG News Service —

No one's doubting the outcome of the massive turnout in the U.S. presidential election in Democratic New Jersey, but for some voters and elected officials, e-voting glitches and long lines are undermining confidence in the electoral process.

"Our voting machine is down. It's broken and they don't appear to have a backup machine," said Bill Grafton, an IT professional who was frustrated in his attempt to vote early Tuesday morning on a Sequoia AVC Advantage machine in Maplewood, a leafy suburb 30 minutes from New York City.

Poll workers for the district said they had only 16 emergency ballots and had to turn away voters when they ran out. More ballots were brought, and when the poll workers ran out of those, they ran down the corridor to use an elementary school photocopier to make more ballots.

"I don't have much faith in these machines," said one poll worker.

People are concerned that in all the confusion, ballots will not be tallied correctly.

"There's a huge feeling that our ballots will not be counted," Grafton said. A few dropped votes in a state expected to go for Barack Obama will not make a difference in the presidential election. But it might make a difference to the town's vote on a referendum Grafton is backing, on a project to lay down artificial turf in a local park.

A New Jersey class-action lawsuit involving voting machines was filed in 2004 and charges that direct-recording electronic devices (DREs) with no paper audit possibilities are illegal. The suit cites state law concerning accurate vote counting, but was not resolved before the November elections.

"If there's a problem, there's no paper trail to actually show how people may have voted, unlike the old machines," said David Lyons, a town councilman standing outside a polling station in Irvington, a working-class town bordering Newark. "I've had conversations with people who have told me they were concerned about it. They're concerned that people might be able to hack into them."

Despite such issues, there was a palpable sense of excitement in the air.

"I've never seen this kind of crowd, it's exciting to see," said Grafton. "It's gonna be a pretty electric day for everyone in the country."

But lines hundreds of people long put a damper on things for some voters.

"I was in line two hours," said Sylvia Green-Robinson, a retired nurse in Irvington. "This morning everyone came out, the sick, the lame and the lazy!" Still, she would have spent a little extra time to make sure there was a paper trail for her vote. "It's two minutes to do the electronic, so if you have to do the paper I would do it too, to make sure the vote counts."

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