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E-voting a fiasco?

Problems with machines not taking votes the first time or with voters being unable to check in cropped up all over the country. But 18,000 missing votes in FL take the cake.

Jon Stokes has a post-mortem of the election day e-voting problems, and though you won't read much about the problems - or see them - in the national media, Stokes writes, they were myriad.

It's not anecdotal - Common Cause logged 16,000 calls on their hotline. Proof that mechanical breakdowns with the high-tech machines were legion: complaints about machine problems increased from three percent to 17 percent. That's a function of just how many more machines were deployed this year over 2004.

For instance, in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, 43 out of 573 precincts reported problems getting machines started and working. This resulted in poll opening delays and the use of paper ballots. There were also reports from Cleveland of machines that stopped working in the middle of voting, and calls from other many other parts of Ohio reporting a litany of problems that range from registration and voter ID confusion to printer jams and vote flipping. You can get a quick list of some of the reports from this site. (If the state of Ohio decides to do the kind of independent post-mortem analysis of the mid-terms that Cuyahoga did of the primaries, those reports will make for even more miserable and embarrassing reading than the Cuyahoga reports.)

In Pennsylvania, polling hours were extended after some polling places opened late due to problems getting the machines started. There were also reports of machines not going through all of the election screens, machines that were not functioning at all, machines automatically shutting down early due to timing problems, and so on. Indeed, Pennsylvania was another state that saw extremely widespread problems with electronic voting machines across multiple counties. Like Ohio, it will yield an embarrassing batch of lengthy post-mortem reports if state officials opt to investigate.

In Cook County, Illinois, where I voted, there were multiple reports of problems with the touchscreen voting machines from Sequoia. The one touchscreen machine at my precinct was frozen, and the poll worker that I talked to said that other precincts in the area were reporting the same problem. The BOE was so swamped with calls, though, that they couldn't get a technician out to the site to fix the machine. All of us ended up voting with the optical scan ballots. Other e-voting activist sites are also investigating the problems in Cook County, as is the state.

The conventional wisdom, however, is that problems were minor and short-lived.

After the election, as many of use feared and expected, election officials and e-voting vendors rushed to assure the public that everything had gone smoothly, and that any reports of problems were either "conspiracy theory," "urban legend," or user error. For the most part, the media has bought this narrative. The party that came out ahead on Tuesday, many members of which were worried about electronic voting problems prior to the election, have moved on to bigger and more important issues, like who will be the new Senate majority leader.

The problems in Florida, however, threaten the "move along, nothing to see here" narrative, and you can be certain that this issue will take center stage again in 2007, as official, detailed reports of what happened last week start to surface and the 2008 presidential campaign gets under way.