October 20, 2006
Ballot Blunders Abound as Election Nears
By Eric Kelderman, Staff Writer
While everyone is worried about high-tech glitches fouling the vote counts this Election Day, some of the biggest fumbles on the way to the ballot box are turning out to be of the man-made variety.
A missing "l" in the word "public" forced Ottawa County, Mich., officials to blush and reprint 170,000 ballots with the proposed state constitutional amendment - at a cost of $40,000.
A good editor also could have helped Denver, which sent out 44,000 absentee ballots with the boxes for "yes" and "no" reversed on a ballot initiative to remove deadlines to challenge recall petitions. The next day, election officials discovered more bad news on the ballot: The suggested postage for its return was insufficient.
The 2006 election may be a watershed test of America's switch to electronic voting systems with computers and touch-screen machines, but it's old-fashioned things like editing errors, nomenclature and insufficient postage that are still causing a healthy share of headaches for election officials.
Millions of dollars are often spent trying to keep candidates and issues off of the fall ballot, but in Tennessee, the last two paragraphs of a constitutional amendment to allow local property-tax freezes for citizens 65 or older were not included in the electronic version that voters will see on Election Day. Instead voters will have to read printed copies of the complete amendment at polling stations.
In Kansas, some simple language omissions could invalidate Hispanic voter registrations. A comparison of Spanish-language voter registration forms with English ones by the Wichita Eagle revealed that the Spanish version failed to warn voters that in incomplete form could be rejected.
About 5,000 absentee ballots are being replaced in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, because of even simpler typographical errors. Those problems were discovered after officials realized that the party affiliations for two candidates in a state House race had been switched.
The single issue of whose name appears first on the ballot has created a brouhaha in New Hampshire that has involved the intervention of the secretary of state, a rare special session of the state Legislature, and the attention of the state Supreme Court. A candidate whose name is placed at the top of the ballot typically receives the most votes, said Paul Twomey, an attorney who filed suit to change the system. Republican candidates used to be listed first; now three parties - Democrats, Independents, and Republicans will each enjoy the pole position on a third of ballots statewide.
In Florida's 16 th Congressional District, former Republican Rep. Mark Foley's name will remain on the ballot even though he resigned after reports about his communications with underage volunteers on Capitol Hill. But a judge has ruled that election officials may not post signs at polling places informing voters that a vote for Foley is a vote for state Rep. Joe Negron, the GOP's replacement candidate.
Maryland officials have been deluged with requests for absentee ballots, after major glitches in the September primary elections. In Montgomery County, the state's most populous jurisdiction, elections officials have hired an additional 15 temporary workers to deal with the increase in absentee voting and they are waiting for an additional 7,000 ballots to meet requests, according to The Gazette newspapers.
The boost in absentee balloting is due to one of the nation's most spectacular voting blunders this year. Thousands of small plastic cards needed to vote on the touch-screen machine were not sent to the county's 238 precincts. That was just one of several problems that delayed voting in the state's most populous jurisdiction, and caused politicians on both sides of the aisle to call for widespread absentee voting.
Like all states, Maryland was required to replace its punch-card voting machines by this year in order to meet the requirements of the 2002 Help America Vote Act — passed after the 2000 presidential election debacle in Florida. Unlike Maryland, many states and counties waited until this year to switch their equipment — nearly a third of the nation's registered voters will face new ATM-like touch-screen voting machines or optical-scanners that read paper ballots marked with a pen , according to the latest estimates by Election Data Services .
That historic shift in voting equipment has stressed state and county election officials as well as voting machine manufacturers in the midst of the most heated mid-term elections in 12 years.
States are experiencing a confluence of new technology and regulations this election season, said Tova Wang, a fellow at the nonprofit Century Foundation . "At least some of the elections will be closely decided, control of Congress hangs in the balance and we have a whole slew of new voting machines and new voting rules. There are a number of problems that we know from the past may arise that states have not addressed, even in 2006," she explained.