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Harrison County Circuit Clerk Defends Changes to Voting Machines

by Keith Burton - GCN 4/16/07

Last week, following the recommendation of Harrison County Circuit Clerk Gayle Parker and the Harrison County Election Commission, the Board of Supervisors voted to drop the use of touch screen voting machines in favor of a scanning type that had been used before the new machines became available.

The new machines, which were recommended by Secretary of State Erik Clark, were used in elections last year to dismal reports of problems, according to Parker. Even before the elections, and the adoption of the new touch screen voting machines, Parker told GCN the she and the county's election commissioners had warned of problems with the machine. These problems were further revealed when they were used and ranged from complicated use, battery failures, and lack of ballot accountability in case of contested elections. The machines adopted by Clark, Parker said are of a similar type that were rejected in California for problems.

Since the elections last year, Parker and the election commissioners have sought to go back to the older system, which was easier to use, cost less to operate, and wasn't so complicated for the volunteers that run the polls. Many of the poll workers are elderly citizens that had some trouble with the operation of the new computerized machines.

Clark wrote to the Board of Supervisors regarding the decision on changing the the voter machines in a letter April 11.

Since then, Circuit Clerk Gayle Parker has been fielding criticism, especially from the Harrison County Democratic party, which opposed the changes. The Board of Supervisors has already voted on the issue, to return to the older machines.

As an effort to provide clarity on the issue, GCN asked for a copy of Parker's letter to the Board of Supervisors. It is repeated entirely below. Secretary of State Eric Clark's letter is linked below as well:

April 12, 2007

Honorable Larry Benefield
President, Harrison County Board of Supervisors
P.O. Drawer CC
Gulfport, MS  39502

RE:  CHANGE IN VOTING SYSTEM

Dear Larry:

In response to Secretary Clark’s letter of April 11, 2007 concerning the Board meeting on Monday with regards to changing the voting system, I would like to reiterate to you that my position remains the same as it was when I addressed the Board at that meeting.

My concern was not only to make the Board aware of the potential costs involved in preparing for the August Primary Elections, but also to address the problems that occurred in the November Election in Harrison County.

My intention was not to get in a confrontation with Secretary Clark, however I feel that I must address some issues that were included in his letter that I believe are not accurate.

1.      If Harrison County will be able to get the Tier 1 pricing as Secretary Clark stated, which would be $3,117.73 per machine, then the cost of 100 machines would be $311,773.00, which would be approximately $13,227.00 less that anticipated. 

2.      The reason for the additional machines is a result of the number requested by each party to adequately support the voters in the August Primaries.

3.      Although the rolling bags are not required, they are a necessity to protect the machines when being transported.

4.      I am not clear about Secretary Clark’s response as to the purchase of the additional canisters, but as far as the Republican Primary is concerned the ballot will be long, which will require the paper to be changed many times during the day.  Each canister that is removed from the machine at the time of the paper change must remain sealed, and a new canister inserted in its place.

5.      I cannot respond to his opinion as to any inaccuracies in the letter from Mr. Paul Beale in DeSoto County.

6.      I am aware as are you that any costs in changing the voting system must be the responsibility of Harrison County.  That is the reason that I presented you with the cost with relation to the DRE machines and another alternative to review with the M100 Scanners.

7.      As far as the State representing the County in lawsuits, I believe that Mr. Meadows is a very capable attorney that has represented the County well in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

8.      As far as his comments regarding the ballots, we are responsible for

entering into SEMS the candidates that qualify with the Harrison Circuit Clerk’s Office. This obviously does not include State races or multi-district races.  We are aware about the change to the ballot

requested by the Election Commissioners regarding 2 candidates,

however the first ballot proof that we received from the State contained errors and was faxed to them with the notation for the corrections.  We received a 2nd ballot proofing package with only one correction made, and that package was faxed to them with the notation that further corrections were needed.   Harrison County received Election Day ballots on the Saturday before the Election.

9.      In addition, we received the data base for the proofing of the Audio

Ballots, which contained the following errors:

1.      Erik Fleming, candidate for U.S. Senate was left off ballot

2.      Harold Taylor was listed as a Democrat, however he was a Libertarian

3.      No Libertarian candidate was listed

4.      Margaret Alfonso, candidate for Chancery Court Judge was left off ballot

5.      Mispronounced 5 candidates names

It took 3 different data bases to get these errors corrected.  The memory cards could not be programmed until we received the final corrected data base from the Secretary of State’s Office, which we did not receive until the Friday prior to the Election.  The final programming of the memory cards was completed on Saturday.  They were placed in the ballot boxes and sealed on the Sunday prior to the Election.

10.  I did not indicate that there was not a voter-verified paper trail with the

machine, however I did say that it would be much more efficient to have an actual paper ballot in case of a contested election.

11.  I agree with Secretary Clark regarding with the extension of the

Qualifying deadline for the Special Election, which caused those absentee ballots to be delayed, however I was referring to the regular election absentee ballots, which were delayed do to the corrections that had to be made in the data base.  We created a paper ballot to accommodate the voters that had to vote absentee.  This paper ballot was utilized until we received the regular absentee ballots approximately 10 days prior to the Election.

12.  Paper jams were a major problem.  As Secretary Clark indicated in his

letter, the paper is $3.50 per roll per machine.  The rolls of paper that we received did not fit correctly (either from expanding due to the humidity or were not the correct rolls) into the printer, which led to the problems with paper jams.  Our technician notified Diebold about this problem.

As you are aware I along with the Election Commissioners requested the Board not to opt in on the statewide purchase, however after Secretary Clark’s presentation, the County chose to accept the Diebold Touchscreen Machines.  I accepted the decision and my staff and I worked diligently to comply with that decision.

My main concern is to ensure the integrity of Elections in Harrison County, and I could not sit silently and leave these problems unaddressed.

If you have any further questions, please let me know.

Sincerely,

Gayle Parker
Harrison County Circuit Clerk

cc:    Member of the Board of Supervisors
        Honorable John McAdams
        Harrison County Election Commissioners
        Hon. Joseph Meadows, Board Attorney


More Information:

Link to Eric Clark's Letter to Harrison County Board of Supervisors

WLOX Story on Voting Machines

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