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— Electronic voting got off to a rocky start in Benton County because of controversy that arose around the 2006 election.

All Arkansas counties were required to have direct recorded electronic (touchtone) or optical scan machines by Jan. 6, 2006.

Perhaps growing out of the controversial "hanging chads" Bush-Gore presidential election in the state of Florida in 2000, the federal government mandated many election law changes, including the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

Complying with the Help America Vote Act, Benton County replaced its punch cards with a new voting system that met new federal standards.

In part, the county opted for the iVotronic, a completely touchscreen-operated voting system that uses rechargeable batteries.

From Election Systems and Software, an election services company, iVotronic machines are activated by poll workers using cartridges programmed with the ballot for a particular precinct. The directread electronic system's 15-inch touch screen allows residents to vote with the touch of a finger or a stylus and to review their election choices on the screen before final submission of their ballots.

The county also opted, in part, for another new voting machine, also from ES&S, a Model 650 Central Ballot Tabulator. The machine is a high-speed central paper-ballot counter and vote tabulator that can adjust to many ballot complexities, including absentee ballots.

Even though many officials agreed that the new system met the required standards most efficiently, at least in the beginning; in the 2006 general election, they may have concluded the new voting technology made the process infinitely more complicated.

Despite misprints and delays, election commissioners had enough of the new electronic voting machines ready for early voting for primary elections, which began May 8, 2006. The delays meant the process of familiarizing many poll workers with the new electronic machines wasn't done before the primary.

On primary election night, only incomplete results were in by 10:35 p.m. Those results included all paper ballots from all precincts.

The only votes not counted were ones on a dozen electronic machines that election commissioners were still in the process of counting at 11:44 p.m.

One reason for the delay: Results were coming in separately from each precinct - from electronic machines and paper ballots. Totals from each had to be merged to form a final precinct total, and workers wouldn't post the numbers until they had the total.

Many of the problems that day can be blamed on a lack of preparation time with the new system, then-Election Commissioner Russ Odell said in 2006. The Help America Vote Act required counties to replace punchcard voting and provide American with Disabilities Act-accessible electronic machines at each polling place, he said.

"Whenever you put a new system in, you have to redo the whole methodology," Odell said in May 2006.

And even after the primary, commissioners have battled paper jams, battery glitches and paper-ballot misprints.

And that wasn't all, or nearly all. The 2006 general election then fell victim to numerous foul-ups, attributed to human error - election workers failing to interact properly with new voting technology.

The election required four vote counts, which yielded four different results.

Results in a number of races were changed.

Act II began with a successful 2008 election that again featured both electronic and paper ballots.

While Feb. 5, 2008, presidential primary election results weren't in as soon as hoped, sufficient time to train poll workers and a new procedure for recounts, along with other reforms, began to have a positive effect, and the May 2008 primary elections set the tone for the general election the following November. And that tone was fine, many agreed.

News, Pages 3 on 09/16/2009

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