October 22, 2008, 4:39 PM — A handful of early voters in West Virginia have complained that electronic voting machines there switched their votes, but voting officials and the e-voting vendor discounted the problem.
Three voters in Putnam County and three voters in neighboring Jackson County told the Charleston Gazette that e-voting machines from Election Systems & Software (ES&S) had switched their votes from a Democratic to a Republican candidate during recent early voting. But county election officials said they've been unable to replicate the problems, and the voters were eventually able to vote for the candidates they wanted.
In some cases, the voters told the newspaper that their attempts to vote for Democratic Senator Barack Obama for president was switched to Republican Senator John McCain. In other cases, votes for other Democratic candidates were switched, they told the newspaper.
All three people who complained were able to ultimately switch their votes to the candidates they wanted, said Jackson County Clerk Jeff Waybright, a Republican. The ES&S e-voting machines being used statewide include a paper printout of the recorded vote, plus two on-screen prompts that ask voters to confirm their picks before they cast their ballot, he said.
"There are three checks on it," Waybright said of the e-voting machines.
Waybright suggested those voters may have touched the edge of a Republican candidate's button on the screen when attempting to vote for a Democrat. The ES&S screens have the buttons of opposing candidates right next to each other.
"I don't know what happened," Waybright said. "I'm not going to say what the voters reported was inaccurate, but we haven't been able to recreate it."
Waybright's staff has been asking voters about the performance of the e-voting machines since the news reports came out last Friday. Since then, more than 800 voters in his county have cast early ballots, with no reported problems, he said.
Waybright's office recalibrated the machines after the news reports, and the clerk's office has supplying voters with eraser-topped pencils to use as styluses instead of their fingers.
Putnam County Clerk Brian Wood, also a Republican, has been surveying early voters about the e-voting machines' performance since a news report on Sunday of votes being switched from Obama to McCain in his county. Wood said he doesn't know what happened, but he's also recalibrated the machines and has had no problems reported since then.
Wood said he'd do nothing to jeopardize the trust that voters have given him. People should report problems with e-voting machines, but Wood said he's concerned that the news reports may cause voters to get "discouraged."
"I take my job seriously," he added. "I'm going to do everything I can to do the job for the people of Putnam County."
Wood also urged voters to check their ballots and pay attention to the screen prompts before they finalize their votes. "We want you to check all your work, just to be on the safe side," he said.
ES&S spokesman Ken Field also noted the review screen on the ES&S machines. "Voters have the opportunity to make changes at that point before they are able to cast their ballot," he said. "The information we have is the voters were not able to replicate the issue they indicated they were having for poll workers."
West Virginia Secretary of State Betty Ireland issued an advisory Tuesday, recommending that county clerks recalibrate their e-voting machines.
"The incidents reported ... are isolated, and, it should be noted, all voters were eventually able to cast their ballot with their desired selections," the advisory said. "As of the end of day on Monday, over 28,000 voters cast their ballot in West Virginia, and thus the reported difficulties were minimal. We continue to work with each county clerk, as well as the manufacturer of the machines, to help ensure that votes are cast and counted accurately."