Cover Story: Problems at the polls?

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Voting machines gone bonkers?

Less than a week out from a supremely important midterm election and already we're hearing about problems at the polls.

People say the voting machines are acting a little wonky.

The chair of the North Carolina Republican Party today alleging a serious flaw with the touch screen ballots.

He says, in some rare cases, when voters press the straight-ticket GOP button their votes are cast for the Democrats.

For some reason it seems to only be happening when you vote straight ticket Republican that it can register Democrats, not the other way around.

With so many races so hotly contested we wondered how widespread this problem can be and what it could mean for Election Day.

It was this e-mail that went out Thursday morning from the Mecklenburg GOP that alerted us to the potential problem.

In bold type: "Voting Irregularities."  

It goes on to say, "Unfortunately, we have reason to have grave concerns regarding the operation of electronic voting machines in polling places across Mecklenburg county."

As of Thursday, more than 633,000 voters (10% of registered voters) have cast ballots in Early Voting in North Carolina.

And there have been fewer than a handful of reported cases statewide, notably here in Mecklenburg county and down east in Craven County where New Bern is.

Voters report pushing a button to vote Republican in all races but the voting machine screen displays a ballot with all Democrats checked.

After voters' repeated attempts to correct it - the same thing happens.

In each case the voter alerted poll workers and was able to cast his ballot as desired.

"We take every claim serious."

Mecklenburg Elections Director Michael Dickerson says his office was alerted to a voting machine apparently having this problem Wednesday at the Early Voting site at the Matthews Library.

Dickerson says the machine was shut down.  A technician from his office was sent to test it out and it appeared to be operating correctly.

He says as a precaution the voting machine was recalibrated along with all the others at the Matthews Library.

Officials say in every election there are isolated cases where the screens need to be recalibrated - something that apparently comes with the territory with touch-screen technology.

Says elections director Dickerson:  "I feel very very comfortable and very safe. We test vote them. We script test vote everything that we send out. So we're very confident that the equipment that we have is out there and out there working in good shape."

The head of the state Republican Party says if the State Board of Elections doesn't fix it the GOP's lawyers will be in Federal Court seeking a statewide injunction.

Any idea why it seems to only happen for the GOP that it reverts to Democrats and not the other way around?

One theory is because Democrats are listed first on the ballot - then Republicans in each of the races - the machines are defaulting to what's listed first.

North Carolina goes alphabetically - listing Democratic candidates ahead of Republicans, since "D" comes before "R" in the alphabet.

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