Government & Politics

Clay County vote machines stopped for hours when staff didn’t press button: officials

For hours, election workers at Clay County polling sites struggled without success to operate ballot-counting machines, causing delays as soon as polls opened Tuesday morning at 6 a.m.

As many as 8 percent of the county’s ballot machines were not functioning properly in the first two to three hours of voting.

But election officials on Wednesday were careful to point out that the machines were not malfunctioning. The problem, officials said, was that poll workers were not operating the machines correctly.

“First off, lets get this clear, the machines did not fail,” said Patty Lamb, Republican director for the Clay County Board of Election Commissioners. “The machines didn’t malfunction. It was more human error than machine error.”

Problems with the ballot boxes were among several challenges faced by voters on the Missouri side of the Kansas City area Tuesday, along with long lines, voter registration confusion, and a persistent practice of Missouri poll workers wrongly demanding photo ID from voters, contrary to the law.

Election officials in Clay and Jackson counties explained some of the problems on Wednesday. In Kansas City, an election official blamed the photo ID confusion on a recent change in the law and said the cause of voter registration problems might not be examined for weeks.

In Clay County, difficulties with electronic ballot boxes started as soon as the polls opened at 6 a.m.

The problem occurred as election judges started the machines. When the machines were starting, the judges needed to hit a “Done” button.

“They didn’t hit the ‘Done’ button, so that’s why it did not accept ballots initially,” Lamb said. “Once we realized what the problem was, we got them all up and going and we ran all the ballots through so they were counted.”

About a dozen machines scattered throughout the county had this problem, including two or three at polls in Excelsior Springs, Lamb said.

“We had everything resolved at least by 8 a.m. if not before, for the majority of them,” she said.

But at least one machine was still not working at 9 a.m., at the Montgomery Event Venue polling location in Excelsior Springs, according to one voter.

Emergency bins were used to collect ballots while the machines were not working. The ballots were entered later.

To prevent the same problem from happening again, Lamb said, election authorities would provide more training for the election judges.

“Our votes are accurate and we want to make sure they stay that way,” Lamb said.

Other areas had problems with their ballot-counting machines too. In Cass County, election judges had voters place their ballots in a cardboard box when the lone ballot machine at Raymore’s Centerview polling location stopped working.

The malfunctioning machine was replaced about 11:30 a.m., according to the Cass County elections office.

In Jackson County, election officials had problems with 2 of its 183 ballot machines, including one at Lee’s Summit City Hall. Both were fixed within 20 minutes, said Corey Dillon, Democratic director for the Jackson County Election Board.

The problem with the machine at City Hall occurred when ink from a pen used to mark a ballot smudged the glass on the scanner of the ballot machine. The other machine got an error code when a voter hesitated while putting a ballot in.

In Kansas City, several people said they had problems with their voter registration, some saying that changes they previously made to their voter registrations were not reflected on the voter rosters.

One voter said poll workers explained that anyone who registered from August to October was not updated on the voter rolls.

Shawn Kieffer, director at the Kansas City Election Board, said he couldn’t comment on those reports because he wasn’t familiar with the details.

Kieffer said he hadn’t had an opportunity to look into the reported problems. The affidavits voters had to sign when faced with registration errors were being returned to the election board’s offices on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

“We probably won’t even look into this matter for another week or two,” Kieffer said.

Missouri voters in the Kansas City area also reported that poll workers wrongly asked for photo ID, which is not required by law.

A court ruling in late October allowed Missouri voters to cast ballots without photo ID and without having to sign an affidavit.

Kieffer said the change came too close to the election to retrain all of the poll workers.

“We were told two weeks before the election to not have our poll workers ask for photo ID,” Kieffer said. “At that time, 90-plus percent of our poll workers had been trained.”

The Kansas City Election Board did its best to communicate with poll workers that there had been a change and they were no longer to ask for photo ID, Kieffer said.

“You can’t throw a ringer like that into our system two weeks prior to election Day and expect it to go flawlessly,” he said.

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