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Washington Area Avoids E-Voting Misery

TrueVote, Common Cause and other groups based their fears on reports published during the last year that revealed flaws that left the machines open to hacking and manipulation. Lamone said that the security issues were fixed, but Schade and other activists still want the machines to be retrofitted with printers.

These issues mirror a national controversy, sparked mostly by the reports on Diebold's AccuVote touch-screen machines, which are in use throughout several states including California, Georgia and Ohio. Some 50 million Americans voted on touch-screen or computerized voting systems Tuesday evening, and some computer scientists predicted that breakdowns in these systems could unfairly tilt the balance of the hotly contested presidential race.

In the District of Columbia and Virginia, the biggest problem affecting voters was the wait. At the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County, a line of more than 150 voters snaked around the school's gymnasium, with the average wait lasting more than an hour.

Inside, Mary Lou Wentzel, the precinct's chief voting officer, spent part of Tuesday morning applying strips of athletic tape to the side of a WINvote machine; people had accidentally kicked the power cord out of the machine, causing it to reboot.

Most of the other problems were machine crashes and human error.

One machine at the Pinecrest golf course polling place in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County crashed at least twice during morning voting. The screen went blank, then displayed the familiar blue startup screen for Microsoft's Windows XP operating system. A moment later, the machine's internal printer began spewing a report indicating that the unit was awake. Elections supervisor Barbara O'Keefe then reset the machine using instructions from a black three-ring binder.

Despite the crash, O'Keefe said, the WINvote machines, manufactured by Frisco, Texas-based Advanced Voting Solutions, make life easier for poll workers at the end of Election Day.

"Before, we had to tabulate the totals on a piece of paper by hand, and we had to decipher lots of handwriting," she said.

Fairfax County was beset by significant electronic-voting problems during an election last November when 10 machines crashed and 154 others experienced other problems, but Electoral Board official Richard Aamodt said that the county handled record turnout with none of last year's problems.

Problems also were few and far between in Alexandria.

Old Town resident Amy Carroll said the process was easy. "I didn't even really pay attention to the instructions," she said. Alexandria uses the eSlate computerized voting system, manufactured by Hart InterCivic of Austin. Votes are recorded electronically, but voters enter choices with a dial rather than by touching the screen.

Katie Nykwest, who voted at William Ramsay Elementary School in Alexandria, reported that several machines had to be rebooted, causing a 20-minute delay shortly before 9 a.m. City Voting Registrar Tom Parkins said he was unaware of the incident but said the machines were rebooted around 10 a.m. when the headphone unit for a blind voter failed.

Del Ray resident Lucinda Callahan said she did not like the machines because she found them too complicated. "When you're 73, everything's hard!" she joked.

Standing alongside her, resident Robert Thompson said he was skeptical of warnings that hackers could change election results more easily than with paper, punchcard or lever ballots. "I feel comfortable that my vote was directed the way I intended it to be done," he said.

Jean Jensen, secretary of the state's elections board, said there were few reports of downed machines. "The problems . . . never got on my radar screen this afternoon because it never escalated to any level where I would have thought, 'Oh my God, here we go.'"

washingtonpost.com staff writers Brian Krebs, David McGuire and Christina Pino-Marina contributed to this report.

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