America's Election Snafus: 2001-2002

Election and Voting Problems: State by State continued


The state missed the September 20 deadline for making absentee ballots available for the November 2002 general election. According to an October 2 story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, state officials were “rushing late absentee ballots to military personnel overseas, hoping to avoid a U.S. Justice Department lawsuit.

In Athens-Clarke County, elections officials have been working to correct widespread errors in assigning voters to districts redrawn after the 2000 census. The county election supervisor resigned after admitting to a number of errors that affected the August 20 primary. Between the primary and the September 10 runoff, county elections staff discovered nearly 1500 voters in the wrong district and say that the number has grown since then.

In the metro Atlanta area, redistricting caused officials to fear that thousands of voters would be directed to the wrong polling sties for the state’s August primary. In Cherokee County, two precincts were changed hours before the election and the elections supervisor said it was one of his roughest election days. In Fulton County, election officials mailed last-minute notices of polling place changes to 5000 voters and took out a newspaper ad about polling changes the day before the election.

The primary also revealed problems with the new touch-screen system that will be used this November, when Georgia becomes the first state to implement statewide electronic voting. In Fulton County, which has the largest number of precincts in the state, a significant number of the demonstration machines set up during the primary failed. Fulton official Diane Hutchins, who is overseeing elections preparations, admitted to concern over the tight timeline for such a large change, “This is a major undertaking, the likes of which nobody has ever done before.” After getting a report on the county’s progress in late September, State Senator Vincent Fort said, “I have heard very little at this point that convinces me this won’t be a fiasco.”

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The expert commissioned by the state to redesign the primary election ballot said there were some fundamental problems with the final product that could make it difficult for some voters to read. Elections Systems & Software, the company contracted to run the state’s elections, questioned whether the designer’s form would be read accurately by its voting machines. An official at the state Office of Elections stressed that ballot redesign is an ongoing process.

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In Johnson County, many unaffiliated voters were refused Republican ballots in the state’s August 2002 primary. Kansas law allows a registered, unaffiliated voter to join a political party at the polls on Election Day and vote in that party’s primary.

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Charles County voters received sample ballots with incorrect voter names before the September primary. The printing error apparently affected all 57,000 registered voters, but the election director assured a Washington Post reporter that “Everything is correct in the polling place.”

Montgomery County elections officials are scrambling to retrain election judges after an especially chaotic September primary election using new computerized voting machines. Four counties used the new system, which is expected to be in use statewide by 2006, but only Montgomery had technical problems that resulted in trouble counting returns. The Washington Post reported that a “combination of short staffing, inadequate training and technological glitches contributed to” the problems. The Post reported later in September that many election judges are quitting after the chaos, which will only exacerbate the problem. Already several hundred judges short of the 3200 needed for the primary, the county now needs to recruit and train over 1000 new volunteers for the November general election.

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