Transition Glitches in Mississippi — Utah to Follow?

The State of Mississippi held its first election with Diebold touch screen voting machines today. According to media reports, the election was relatively problem-free. However, even with the state working hard to make things work well, there were several problems. As the Buloxi paper reported:

The process went relatively smoothly, except for a few glitches, officials say.

In Leflore and Jackson counties, early voters had to cast paper ballots because the touch-screen machines were not customized for each individual precinct, said David Blount, spokesman for Secretary of State Eric Clark. The machines were fixed by Tuesday afternoon, he said.

“It was supposed to be set up correctly and tested. For whatever reason, that didn’t happen,” Blount said. “The safeguard is that every polling place is required to have paper ballots. No voters should be disenfranchised.”

Williams voted at the Jackson Avenue precinct in Yazoo City, where poll workers said turnout was high. There were a few instances of the machines kicking out the voter’s card, preventing people from voting, said poll worker Geraldine Stewart. Those voters were allowed to cast affidavit ballots, Stewart said.

Of Mississippi’s 82 counties, 77 have bought new touch-screen machines that meet standards under the Help America Vote Act, a federal law that requires states to replace outdated election equipment. The old punch card and lever machines in many counties have been replaced by the touch-screen machines made by Diebold.

The five counties that didn’t buy the Diebold machines have relatively new voting equipment that’s acceptable under HAVA.

The secretary of state’s office conducted an extensive education effort for election officials and voters to make the transition to the machines easier. Stewart said poll workers had another run-through Monday night. “It’s not as bad as people thought it would be. I think by the November election, people will have the hang of it,” Stewart said.

Blount said there were other minor problems statewide, but mostly the kind associated with any election, such as poll workers arriving late or not having the machines ready when the polls opened. He said workers in Madison County didn’t have the keys to unlock the new machines.

In Utah, the state will be implementing the Diebold machines later this month, but there the State has provided little to no support to the counties to assist in the transition. According to local election officials, the equipment transition has been almost completely left in the hands of Diebold. It will be interesting to see what the difference is in implementation between a state that works to make things go well–like Mississippi–and a state that is completely vendor-reliant, like Utah.