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Some Early Voters Say Machines Mark Incorrect Choices

By Jim Ludwick
Journal Staff Writer
    Kim Griffith voted on Thursday— over and over and over.
    She's among the people in Bernalillo and Sandoval counties who say they have had trouble with early voting equipment. When they have tried to vote for a particular candidate, the touch-screen system has said they voted for somebody else.
    It's a problem that can be fixed by the voters themselves— people can alter the selections on their ballots, up to the point when they indicate they are finished and officially cast the ballot.
    For Griffith, it took a lot of altering.
    She went to Valle Del Norte Community Center in Albuquerque, planning to vote for John Kerry. "I pushed his name, but a green check mark appeared before President Bush's name," she said.
    Griffith erased the vote by touching the check mark at Bush's name. That's how a voter can alter a touch-screen ballot.
    She again tried to vote for Kerry, but the screen again said she had voted for Bush. The third time, the screen agreed that her vote should go to Kerry.
    She faced the same problem repeatedly as she filled out the rest of the ballot. On one item, "I had to vote five or six times," she said.
    Michael Cadigan, president of the Albuquerque City Council, had a similar experience when he voted at City Hall.
    "I cast my vote for president. I voted for Kerry and a check mark for Bush appeared," he said.
    He reported the problem immediately and was shown how to alter the ballot.
    Cadigan said he doesn't think he made a mistake the first time. "I was extremely careful to accurately touch the button for my choice for president," but the check mark appeared by the wrong name, he said.
    Bernalillo County Clerk Mary Herrera said she doesn't believe the touch-screen system has been making mistakes. It's the fault of voters, she said Thursday.
    Cadigan, for example, could have "leaned his palm on the touch screen and it hit the wrong button," she said.
    In Sandoval County, three Rio Rancho residents said they had a similar problem, with opposite results. They said a touch-screen machine switched their presidential votes from Bush to Kerry.
    Bureau of Elections Manager Eddie Gutierrez also said he doesn't believe there are problems with the machines.
    But Gutierrez did replace one after someone complained— even though he found nothing wrong with it.
    "He (the voter) felt so strongly about it, that I shut it down," Gutierrez said.
    Herrera said she's heard stories from Democrats and Republicans. In some cases, when people have tried to vote a straight ticket, the screen has given their votes to every candidate in the opposite political party, she said.
    She believes it's a people problem. "I have confidence in the machines," she said. "They are touch screens. People are touching them with their palms, or leaning their hand. ... They're hitting the wrong button."
    Herrera and others said voters should be diligent about reviewing their touch-screen ballots so they can make alterations.
    Griffith said she's afraid some votes will go to the wrong candidates by accident. "People need to know that they have to be careful," she said.
    "I'm concerned that people who don't check and double-check will try to vote for a candidate and not realize that the vote went to another candidate," she said.
   
Journal staff writer Joshua Akers contributed to this report.