Luzerne County voting machine calibration problems verified in Tuesday’s election

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - [email protected] | November 9th, 2016 7:10 pm - updated: 2:06 pm.

Luzerne County Election Director Marisa Crispell estimated a dozen of the more than 705 county electronic voting machines used in Tuesday’s general election had calibration issues.

For calibration to pass muster, the touch-sensitive layers must be properly lined up with the underlying ballots, ensuring the intended choices light up.

Some voters — Crispell did not have an exact number — selected the straight-party Republican box Tuesday, but the straight-party Democratic one appeared as selected instead, she said. She attributes the problem to misaligned calibration.

Crispell and other county election officials stressed they received no complaints from voters who were unable to correct problems and select their chosen candidates before casting their ballots.

About 39 percent, or 52,835, of the 136,366 ballots cast in Tuesday’s general election were straight-party selections — 24,753 Democrat and 27,370 Republican, according to unofficial results.

Calibration testing is performed on all machines before they are sealed up and delivered to polling places, Crispell said. Voting machine technicians also had cleaned the connectors inside each machine and tested the calibration in September, she said.

Despite these efforts, Crispell said the jostling of machines during delivery and set-up can cause calibration problems.

“Calibration issues happen in every single election,” Crispell said. “In every election, we have machines that need to be re-calibrated.”

Calibration problems are corrected by a team of 16 trained technicians called “rovers” on election day, she said.

The county doesn’t have the manpower to perform a second round of calibration tests on all machines after they arrive at polling places, Crispell said.

Instead, Crispell said her office will continue to stress the importance for voters to verify their selections are accurate before they hit the final confirm button. After the initial selection, the machines contain both review and confirm pages, with the option for voters to return to the ballot to change any selections, she said.

“Voters have three different opportunities to review the ballot before they hit confirm,” she said, urging voters to continue reporting suspicions of calibration problems to election workers at their polling places.

One voting machine at a Plains Township polling place also was flagged in Tuesday’s election, Crispell said. Election officials believe the machine properly recorded the votes, but the results had to be extracted using a flash drive because the retrieval device normally used had malfunctioned, Crispell said. As a result, the votes from this machine were not reported online until Wednesday afternoon.

The county’s electronic voting machines are a decade old, said Crispell. Election officials throughout the state are interested in new systems but are reliant on the state and/or federal government to come up with funding for upgrades, she said.

All election results are unofficial because the county election office will conduct an official count on Monday. Provisional and military/oversee absentee ballots will be counted at that time, she said.


By Jennifer Learn-Andes

[email protected]

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.