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JoCoKs Primary Election Kansas City Star article



 
Posted on Thu, Aug. 08, 2002


Johnson County's computer voting machines withstand primary


The Kansas City Star

The count took longer than expected, and hundreds of votes were overlooked for a time, but Johnson County's top election official on Wednesday called the county's first full-fledged use of computer voting machines a success.

Despite some human glitches, the machines withstood the pressure of a primary election across 403 precincts, Election Commissioner Connie Schmidt said after an anxious 13-hour election shift.

"The machines performed very well," Schmidt said. "We were very pleased. The software proved itself to me."

But you might have gotten a less-rosy response at 9:30 p.m. election night.

That is when workers at command central in Olathe realized that just under 500 votes recorded on six of 820 election cartridges were missing. Poll workers accidentally left the cartridges, the size of a compact disc, in polling computers that were locked away for the night.

"They basically got in a hurry and left too soon," Schmidt said.

Election foul-ups surfaced at the following locations:

 Mission Road Bible Church, 7820 Mission Road, Prairie Village.

 Overland Park Lutheran Church, 7810 W. 79th St., Overland Park.

 Redeemer Lutheran Church, 7300 Nieman Road, Shawnee.

 Rising Star Elementary School, 8600 Candlelight Lane, Lenexa.

 South Park Elementary School, 8715 W. 49th Terrace, Merriam.

The uncounted ballots were cast in races in Kansas House Districts 21, 22, 23 and 30, all uncontested races except for District 30, Schmidt said.

In District 30, David Huff, a Lenexa Republican, captured a decisive victory.

Schmidt made the decision Tuesday night to wait to add the votes from the uncounted cartridges to the totals. That will be done when the County Commission convenes at 2 p.m. Monday to certify the election results. The session at the Johnson County Election Office, 2101 E. Kansas City Road in Olathe, is open to the public.

In all, 96,002 votes were cast out of a potential 328,757 registered voters, a strong 29 percent turnout.

Election systems similar to the one used in Johnson County will be deployed this fall in Georgia; Alameda County, Calif.; and El Paso County, Texas.

Representatives from all three locations observed Tuesday night's election, along with a representative of Diebold Election Systems Inc., the McKinney, Texas, company that supplied the $3 million in hardware and software.

"I took my time last night because it was very, very, very important to me to know that the software was tabulating correctly," Schmidt said. "We owe it to the county and the taxpayers and everyone else to be sure that it's right."

When the machines were first used in April during city elections, incorrect vote totals were discovered in six races, three of them contested.

Schmidt defended the voting machines at the time, saying they worked fine. She blamed the mistakes on the software used to tally the votes.

For Tuesday's results, Schmidt devised a parallel computer tally system that delayed election results by up to 45 minutes. That double-check will not be used in November, she said.

"We knew we were going to be slower," Schmidt said. She said that the larger number of candidates on the ballot in a primary, as opposed to a general election, slows down the count.

The election commissioner insists the county's foray into electronic balloting should not be dubbed an experiment.

"No, we never signed on to be guinea pigs," Schmidt said. "Our voters love the new machines."


To reach Finn Bullers, Johnson County government reporter, call (816) 234-7705 or send e-mail to fbullers@kcstar.com.





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