Bad batch of batteries cited as source of voting machine woes

Problems with precinct voting machines during the primary election, Tuesday, May 8, were addressed during the Dearborn County Commissioners meeting Tuesday night, May 15, at the Dearborn County Government Center, Lawrenceburg.

County clerk of courts Gayle Pennington said the “machines did not malfunction.”

The batteries were dead in the card that holds the information on the candidates. The batteries worked fine during testing conducted prior to election day, she said.

Thirty-six of the county's 45 precincts were impacted by the dead batteries.

Jeremy Burton, Indiana manager for Election Systems & Software, which has served the county for over 25 years, admitted “We had a terrible election this time.” He added all the ballots were counted by 6:15 p.m. The polls close in Indiana at 6 p.m.

“I am here to apologize to you and your voters,” said Burton.

The batteries were only six months old. They are supposed to last eight years with the recommendation they be changed every five years, he said.

It appears the county received a bad batch of batteries, he said.

The company will credit the cost of the election to the county and replace the batteries for every future election, said Burton.

“We want to give people confidence their votes were counted accurately,” he said.

During the public comment section of the meeting, Bright resident Brian DeBruler asked commissioners if he could ask Burton some additional questions.

DeBruler asked what is the primary function of the batteries in the voting machines and if any of the company's customers had ever experienced a problem on a similar scale.

The batteries power the memory device with all the election data and scanned ballot information. The company has been in business 40 years. During that time he is not aware of a similar issue on this scale, said Burton.

Burton also added not everyone in the country had elections on May 8.

The voting machines use software certified by the federal and state governments, kept in a secure building at the company's headquarters. When the batteries die the cards need to be re-burned with the information, but no cards were re-programmed election day, he said.

Back-up cards with the information were used, said Pennington.

Dave Cunningham said he was concerned the ballots were not properly secured until the machines were functioning in Yorkville. Between the time his wife voted and he voted between 7:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. the ballots were in the machine with no door on the front.

He could see all 86 ballots that were cast before he arrived. Someone could have come up and just taken them, said Cunningham.

After a technician stopped by the Yorkville precinct, the machines were up and running at 1:30 p.m. The bin door probably was not closed by someone at some point, said Pennington.

“We are going to red star that for training in the fall,” she said, regarding the poll workers.

But to put minds at ease, the number of ballots were compared to the voter signatures and the numbers were exact, said Pennington, adding this was the first time the new machines had been use in an election.

Commissioner Jim Thatcher asked Burton what type of support the county would receive from the company in the fall.

Three people were on hand for the primary election, that number will be the same for the fall, said Burton.

Commissioner Art Little said they expect this will not happen again.

“We will do better moving forward,” said Burton.

At the beginning of the meeting Pennington also gave commissioners an overview of the election.

In the 45 precincts there was a total of 6,816 ballots cast- 5,811Republican and 1,005 Democrat. There were 623 absentee ballots cast. Voter turnout was 17.79 percent, said Pennington.

The county election board will meet at 2:45 p.m. Friday, March 18, in the election room of the Dearborn County Government Center. The meeting is open to the public, she said.