Montgomery, West Windsor suffer voting machine failures

By Kristine Snodgrass, Staff Writer
   Broken voting machines in Montgomery Township caused confusion on Election Day among crowds of voters who had lined up before the polls opened.
   At the Montgomery Emergency Medical Services station on Harlingen Road, where residents in District 8 vote, the only machine in the polling place didn’t work when the polls opened at 6 a.m.
   The problem was cleared up before 7 a.m., said Township Clerk Donna Kukla. Poll workers were not trained to fix the problem, so a technician was summoned, she said.
   ”It was a little electronic glitch,” she said. “In a sense, it was similar to rebooting.”
   But the sudden confusion was distressing to the crowd of people waiting to vote, she said. About 40 people had queued up before the polls opened at 6 a.m.
   ”People were getting agitated,” Ms. Kukla said.
   Claire Todd, said she arrived at the EMS station before 6 a.m. with her husband because they were worried about long lines at polling places. After it became evident to voters that the machine wasn’t working, she said there was a lot of confusion.
   In place of the machine, voters cast emergency ballots, Ms. Kukla said. There were just enough ballots to keep things running until the problem was fixed, she said, but some people did have to leave for work before they were able to cast their ballot.
   Ms. Kukla added that she didn’t consider it unreasonable to have only one voting machine at that location, which serves 801 registered voters.
   ”Financially, the county doesn’t have the amount of machines to give everyone two machines,” she said.
   A similar incident occurred at the Montgomery Evangelical Free Church, the polling location for District 5. The machine also didn’t work when the polls opened and had to be replaced, which was done by 7:30 a.m., Ms. Kukla said.
   About 60 emergency ballots were cast in District 5, and about 30 in District 8, she said.
   Ms. Todd said there was no private, closed place to write on the emergency ballots, and no voting box to put the ballots in after they were sealed. They were piled on a table, and at one point the pile became too large and toppled onto the floor, she said.
   ”(Poll workers) get training, and they’re supposed to be ready for these contingencies but this did not look like they were ready,” she said.
   The poll workers, some of whom have had the job for 20 years, are “extremely trained,” Ms. Kukla said, and were retrained this year.
   Ms. Todd also said she had difficulty understanding the emergency ballots because they were not formatted like the sample ballots she had studied before, and she did not have her reading glasses.
   They were not identical to the sample ballots that had been mailed, but were set up more like absentee ballots, Ms. Kukla said. They were “perfectly clear,” she said.
   The confusion had people worried, Ms. Todd said.
   ”None of us were real sure they were going to be counted,” she said.
   Ms. Kukla said the ballots would be included in the official result. They were opened and counted by poll workers after the polls closed, and then sent to the county for the official result, which had not yet been released at press time.
   A similar incident occurred in West Windsor’s District 4, where there was an issue with broken machines, said township Deputy Clerk Gay Huber. District 4 includes Bear Brook Road and part of Alexander Road The polling place was the Charlotte Newcombe Center of the Princeton Theological Seminary.
   Ms. Huber declined to comment further on the situation.
   Mercer County Elections Superintendent Betty Monroe said a few machines did malfunction in the county, including in West Windsor. But voting wasn’t impeded, she said.
   ”(Voters) didn’t have to wait more than 10 or 15 minutes,” she said.
   Trucks with extra voting machines were parked in Trenton and in Princeton, she said. The machines were escorted by police, and any problems were overseen by technicians from her office, she said.
   Some long lines occurred in the morning, she said, but after that there was an “even flow” of voters.