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Training workers on voting machines a key problem

Hackers and paper trails aren't the real problem with e-voting. It's the the lack of training for techphobic senior poll workers that's really scary.
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Written by Richard Koman on

Electronic voting machines and optical vote-counters are getting all the headlines in the pre-election week but an underreported story is the disconnect between the high-tech equipment and the less than tech-savvy poll workers, or judges, who have to follow the procedures and deal with machine failure. Typically, they are senior citizens who often have no experience with technology.

The Washington Post profiles one typical polling judge in Maryland, which has been reeling from a very problematic primary election conducted with Diebold machines.

Samuel Goodman's main concern during a training session last week for prospective election judges in Montgomery County (Md.) was something far more simple: how to turn on the machines.

Goodman is part of the wave of hastily recruited Montgomery trainees, and at 73 he fits what elections officials say is the age profile of the average poll worker nationwide. Most are well into their retirement years, and the technology changes can be daunting for some of those who didn't grow up using computers. That is why some states are looking to recruit college, and even high school, students to work the polls.

Goodman, a former NBC television news producer who lives near Rockville, said he found the jargon of the training session offered by the county Board of Elections incomprehensible and the technology overwhelming. It wasn't long before his eagerness hardened to frustration as he realized the job of check-in judge was going to be a lot harder than he thought.

New poll workers, especially elderly ones, find that the three-hour training class is wildly inadequate. The Post reporter's reporting on one session gives a flavor for what pollworkers - and voters - are up against in places where training has been inadequate.

The trainees struggled with a new vocabulary: voter access cards, USB port, local area network, GEMS server. After the trainer said using the electronic poll book -- the machine that repeatedly faltered during the (Maryland) primary -- was a lot like using a PDA, Goodman wondered what a PDA is.

Later, when the instructor, Belinda Lee, asked the class to plug in the ethernet line, some stared blankly at the tangle of wires in front of them until she told them it was the one that looks like a telephone cord.

"Oy vey!" an exasperated Goodman blurted out.

During a break, trainee Joseph Burke, 80, of Chevy Chase thumbed through the thick three-ring binder he will have to become familiar with before Tuesday.

"That's a lot of stuff they threw at us," he said. "It's going to take some more studying."

Anthony DiLullo, 67, of Bethesda was comforted only by the fact that another check-in judge would be working the polls with him Election Day. "I hope the other person knows more than I do," he said.

In other areas, election officials have responded to the issue by recruiting young people,. In Chicago, 754 high school students have been recruited to work the polls. The city has also trained 2,000 college students to work as technicians at every polling place. And Cleveland's Cuyahoga County has turned poll worker training over to the local community college.

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