ES&S iVotronic Touch-Screens Fail In 100% of the County's Precincts, Voters Reportedly Being Turned Away Without Being Able to Cast a Vote
Virus-Vulnerable Voting Machines Had Been Sent Home with Pollworkers on 'Sleepovers' Prior to Today's Republican Primary...
By John Gideon on 1/19/2008, 9:45am PT  

Guest Blogged By John Gideon, VotersUnite.Org

Local media and CNN are reporting that Horry County South Carolina's ES&S touch-screen voting machines are in a near total meltdown.

CNN reports:

Poll workers in Horry County tell CNN voting machines have been down since polls opened Saturday morning throughout the county — the machines are not reading an activation card.

Workers have been giving out paper ballots but at least one precinct has run out of envelopes to seal them in (not a sign of turnout — they had just 23 such ballots on hand). Election workers say that officials have told them they are working precinct by precinct to fix the problem and that a few voting machines may now be running, but some voters have been turned away and asked to check back later.

Three poll workers also tell CNN the county has about 100 precincts and all have been affected. CNN is awaiting a call back from the county's election supervisor.

Further CNN coverage here: "South Carolina primary plagued by bad voting machines"

Malfunctioning voting machines plagued Horry County, which contains the cities of Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach, according to poll workers. Workers said the machines have been down since polls opened at 7 a.m., and they are not reading activation cards.

Workers were handing out paper ballots, but at least one precinct has run out --- it had only 23 on hand. Poll workers said the county has about 100 precincts, and all of them are affected.

This is happening in a state where election officials were recently asked about their paperless ES&S iVotronic touch-screen (DRE) voting system and the fact that other states have found the machines to be insecure, poorly designed, inaccurate, and not accessible for voters with disabilities. These officials have all said that they anticipated a smooth voting process for both the Republican presidential preference primary on Jan. 19 and the Democratic primary on Jan. 26 in South Carolina....

Prior to the reports of the mass failure of their voting machines, Horry County had released their plan on how they were going to conduct two primary elections on two straight Saturdays.

Late in the week poll workers picked up the iVotronic machines that they are using today. They took them home on voting machine "sleepovers" and then set up the poll sites for today's primary.

Today only the Republicans are voting.

When the polls close this evening all memory cards, machines, and supplies will be returned to the county election office.

The tallies will be done and the results reported. The machines will then be prepared to be picked up next Thursday by the same poll workers who will take them home and repeat the "sleepover" process for the Democratic primary next Saturday.

This plan seems to be a welcome mat for security problems, since the machines are highly susceptible to tampering, and even short periods outside the view of the public and election officials can be a recipe for disaster. Also in question is whether memory cards will be saved between the two primaries, as per federal law. This Train Wreck will probably throw a locomotive wheel into the counties' plans.

This article will be updated as more news comes in...

Update: Noon Pacific: While Donna Mahn, Georgetown County's elections director, said, ".....before the iVotronic machines go out to precincts, they must be tested and calibrated by elections staff members. The state provides a set of rules for testing," and Mahn said, "everyone is careful to follow those to the letter."

Apparently Ms. Mahn misspoke because Chris Whitmire, public information officer for the State Election Commission has made the following statement to explain the problem:

Whitmire said the problem came when election officials, who test the machines by placing dummy votes and checking that they are recorded, forgot to complete the last step of the test in some cases. That last step clears the machines in preparation for actual voting.

And what do the voters have to say about the situation? While county officials are minimizing the impact of the meltdown by telling the media that no one was sent home without voting and there were paper ballots available, the voters were telling a different story:

In an email to News13, Steve Rabe wrote, “This is not true. Everyone is being turned away. There are no paper ballots. We were just turned away along with many of our neighbors. We were told the only place we could vote was in Conway. They did not know if they would get ballots later today. We were told to check back later…in the rain. This is a crisis.”

Tom Reynolds wrote, “I voted by paper ballot at the Socastee library and saw them run out of those while I was there at 10am. I went to the Forestbrook precinct with a neighbor, picked up some paper ballots there and took them to the Socastee library. They told me they had 'turned away' 20 voters in the time I was gone! Turned away?! That's not supposed to happen according to the Horry county elections commission. They said they are supposed to send them to another precinct.”

Update: 1:15PM Pac.: The McCain campaign has now announced that they will ask for the polls in Horry County to stay open an extra-hour beyond the scheduled 7PM EST closing. However, a circuit court judge has to issue the order and it is Saturday.

Update: 3:15PM Pac.:It appears that the CNN source for the story about McCain's campaign wanting to hold the polls open an extra hour may have been jumping the gun. Later news reports are that McCain's handlers are behind closed doors trying to decide what to do.

It is also being reported that voters in polling places all over the county used scraps of paper, note book paper, and even paper towels would be accepted as a ballot. The county is expecting to hand count over 1,500 pieces of paper tonight.

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