Technical glitches hinder election

Published 4:48 pm Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Things didn’t go as smoothly on Tuesday as David Sylvia would have liked.

With dozens of laptop computers running new electronic poll book software at polling places across the city, expectations had been high for a smooth election process in Suffolk this year, with shorter wait times for voters and reduced stress for polling officials.

Instead, the day started out with a rash of headaches that election officials had to treat as the day wore on.

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“If I wasn’t already bald, I would pull my hair out,” Sylvia, the chairman of Suffolk’s Electoral Board, said Tuesday afternoon. “But we’ve got (things) back up, and everything’s going good.”

With the advent of the laptop computers and their database programs complete with voter information, Sylvia and other election officials had hoped the days of the thick paper poll books were all in the past.

Demonstrating the new system for a reporter last week, he said the computerized records should speed up the process of checking in voters, while protecting the security of the voting process.

Soon after polling officials arrived at their assigned polling places on Tuesday, though, many began realizing that things were not going to go as well as they’d hoped.

Some hardware problems showed up quickly, Sylvia said, as some precinct officials unpacking their laptops realized they were missing power cords or other bits of hardware.

Some polling officials had all the right equipment, but they hooked it up wrong, he added.

And then there were the software problems, which slowed the check-in process at voting sites around the city.

Because of a glitch in the database, some people who had cast absentee ballots in a previous election showed up on the electronic list as having done so again this year, he said.

Using the old-fashioned poll books, polling officials were able to verify the correct status for many of those voters, Sylvia said.

Some, however, were forced to cast provisional, paper ballots. Officials will begin counting those ballots on Wednesday, Sylvia said.

“It was pretty widespread,” he said of Suffolk’s early Election Day hurdles, though he declined to estimate the number of provisional ballots that had been cast in Suffolk on Tuesday.

There were some resulting lines at various polling places.

Lines were reported to be “curved around the building” at Nansemond River High School prior to 7 a.m. Tuesday, according to, a non-partisan election watchdog site.

Sylvia disputed the characterization of the line, but by 3:30 p.m., he said, the situations causing the lines had been taken care of. “We know we’ve got all the hardware glitches worked out,” and by afternoon officials were checking voters in both electronically and on paper, “just to be double-checked.”

Sylvia said voters had been understanding about the situation “in most cases,” and he stressed that the check-in problems “are not going to affect the vote count.”

Sylvia said there were “a couple of minor glitches” with the city’s Sequoia Voting Systems voting machines, but those two machines were quickly fixed.

State election officials are set to visit Suffolk on Wednesday to help determine where things went wrong with the voter check-in system and to help repair the database so it won’t be a problem in future elections, Sylvia said.