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Some Voting Machines Chop Off Candidates' Names

Officials in Alexandria, Falls Church and Charlottesville have discovered that their electronic balloting systems truncate names on the summary pages.
Officials in Alexandria, Falls Church and Charlottesville have discovered that their electronic balloting systems truncate names on the summary pages. (By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)

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By Leef Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 24, 2006

U.S. Senate candidate James Webb's last name has been cut off on part of the electronic ballot used by voters in Alexandria, Falls Church and Charlottesville because of a computer glitch that also affects other candidates with long names, city officials said yesterday.

Although the problem creates some voter confusion, it will not cause votes to be cast incorrectly, election officials emphasized. The error shows up only on the summary page, where voters are asked to review their selections before hitting the button to cast their votes. Webb's full name appears on the page where voters choose for whom to vote.

Election officials attribute the mistake to an increase in the type size on the ballot. Although the larger type is easier to read, it also unintentionally shortens the longer names on the summary page of the ballot.

Thus, Democratic candidate Webb will appear with his first name and nickname only -- or "James H. 'Jim' " -- on summary pages in Alexandria, Falls Church and Charlottesville, the only jurisdictions in Virginia that use balloting machines manufactured by Hart InterCivic of Austin.

"We're not happy about it," Webb spokeswoman Kristian Denny Todd said last night, adding that the campaign learned about the problem a week ago and has since been in touch with state election officials. "I don't think it can be remedied by Election Day. Obviously, that's a concern."

Every candidate on Alexandria's summary page has been affected in some way by the glitch. Even if candidates' full names appear, as is the case with Webb's Republican opponent, incumbent Sen. George F. Allen, their party affiliations have been cut off.

Jean Jensen, secretary of the Virginia State Board of Elections, who said yesterday she only recently became aware of the problem, pledged to have it fixed by the 2007 statewide elections.

"You better believe it," Jensen said. "If I have to personally get on a plane and bring Hart InterCivic people here myself, it'll be corrected."

Absentee voters casting ballots in advance of the Nov. 7 election first noticed the problem. Election officials have been forced to post signs in voting booths and instruct poll workers to explain why some longer names appear cut-off.

Election officials in Alexandria said they have been vexed by the problem since they purchased the voting machines in 2003. Although the problem has raised eyebrows among confused voters, elections officials said they are confident that the trouble has not led voters to cast ballots incorrectly.

"This is not the kind of problem that has either shaken our confidence in the system overall or that of the vote," said Alexandria Registrar Tom Parkins. "There have been far worse problems around the country."

James T. "Jim" Hurysz, an independent candidate who's running to unseat incumbent Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), sees it somewhat differently. His name has been shortened on the summary page to "James T. 'Jim.' "


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