The 2008 election's hanging chads: glitches, dust, creases

Hardly any Americans will pull a lever or punch out chads this election day. But that doesn't mean the problems of the past are gone. 

Computerworld is reporting on issues with touchscreen voting machines in key battleground states of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Virginia. The malfunctioning machines caused some polling places to resort to back-up paper ballots, and in some cases those ran out.

Though touch screen machines seem to get the most attention, a marjority of the nation's counties are using optical scanning machines. These require voters to fill out a paper card that's fed into a scanner. A No. 2 pencil isn't required, but the process isn't hassle-free.

Optical scanners can run afoul of things as simple as creases in the ballots, as is happening with absentee ballots in one Florida county. A CBS affiliate there reports:

When you vote absentee, you have to fold, or crease, your ballot before placing it in the proper envelope for mailing or dropping off at an elections office. Last week as tabulation of absentee ballots got under way, canvassing board members discovered sometimes the creases are being mistaken for votes by the tabulating machines.
When the incorrect reading results in a double vote, the equipment kicks out the ballot. The canvassing board reviews the ballot, recognizes the error, then orders a duplication on a non-folded sheet of paper.  Workers send the duplicated ballot back through the machines.

Creases aren't the only hiccup to hit scanning of absentee ballots. In Colorado, dust on mail-in ballots is causing scanning machines to malfunction. Wired has the story:

In Boulder County, they're concerned that dust in the crease of mail-in ballots could lead to inaccurate results when put through the scanner.

Dust issues can be easily remedied by cleaning the scanners during heavy use. Boulder County has opted to clean dusty ballots before scanning them.

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