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Election test delayed
[May 01, 2006]

Election test delayed

(Charleston Gazette, The (WV) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Apr. 29--A deadline to test electronic voting equipment in West Virginia was pushed back to the day before the May 9 primary election because of various problems or delays with the new machines.

Secretary of State Betty Ireland asked for the extension in an injunction request filed in Kanawha County Circuit Court on Friday afternoon. She sought a delay in the mandatory election-system tests that were to be held Tuesday.

The tests now must be held before noon on May 8, Kanawha County Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib ruled.

Some counties had a software glitch in their new electronic systems and others have not received the necessary software to carry out the election electronically. Because of the delays, counties were bearing down on a required deadline to have equipment tested a week before the election.

Omaha, Neb.-based Election Systems & Software Inc. won a state bid to provide the election equipment to bring West Virginia up to federal Help America Vote Act standards. A spokeswoman for ES&S said the company has worked hard and cooperated with West Virginia counties to meet deadlines.

"We fully accept the responsibility for our role in the process," said Jill Friedman-Wilson. "This is an unprecedented year. It's a challenge for all of us."

Thirty-four counties chose to use only touch-screen voting machines that require a portable electronic ballot that inputs ballot information, records votes and transfers the cast votes for counting. Those devices have been supplied and are ready for some counties, but others, such as Cabell County, have not received all the equipment.

"To say the least, I am absolutely appalled by ES&S' delays, and the hardships ES&S has placed on this state," Ireland said Friday afternoon. "It is inexcusable."

Ireland said the number of counties reporting problems with ES&S-prepared ballot software has increased to 13 of the 34 counties that have contracts with the company to provide electronic voting systems.

A glitch in some of the systems allows users of the company's Ivotronic machines to cast ballots and have their votes recorded correctly, but does not count the votes properly.

Ireland said she could not comment on the possibility that the office will pursue breach of contract lawsuits against the company.

However, she said, "Suffice it to say, we are in daily contact with our representative from the attorney general's office regarding this matter."

Cabell County Prosecuting Attorney Chris Chiles was named as the respondent in the case because he -- as the county's chief law enforcement officer -- would have to prosecute election-law violations. The legal action was to keep him from acting against the county's clerk if Cabell County missed the deadline.

The filing is known as a "friendly" filing because it sought a judgment both sides want.

Zakaib's ruling applies to every county clerk who would not have been able to test equipment by Tuesday.

Some counties will be able to perform the testing next week.

Counties already had started looking for a second option, as the election is less than 10 days away, said Ben Beakes, chief of staff for the secretary of state. That would have included reverting back to paper ballots. Many counties would have trouble getting enough paper ballots printed in time. Some have had to use paper ballots throughout early voting because of problems.

"We're trying to give the counties more time," Beakes said. "The problem is that the company who works with the counties is delayed in giving them their ballots."

Fayette County Clerk Kelvin E. Holliday said that even with the judge's decision, his county will use only optical-scan paper ballots during this primary election. He said it still will be at least four days before his county receives all the necessary software to use the touch-screen voting machines that do not use paper ballots.

Kanawha County also will go ahead with a Tuesday test unless its new programming has not been corrected and delivered. Kanawha's voting software was delivered once but did not work, said Kanawha County Commissioner Kent Carper.

A new version is being created.

"It's my anticipation that they will have these machines corrected and ready for public testing," Carper said.

Gazette staff writer Phil Kabler and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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