By Paul J. Nyden
October 18, 2008
In six cases, Democratic votes flipped to GOP
from The Charleston Gazette
WINFIELD, W.Va. -- Three Putnam County voters say electronic voting machines changed their votes from Democrats to Republicans when they cast early ballots last week.
This is the second West Virginia county where voters have reported this problem. Last week, three voters in Jackson County told The Charleston Gazette their electronic vote for "Barack Obama" kept flipping to "John McCain".
In both counties, Republicans are responsible for overseeing elections. Both county clerks said the problem is isolated.
They also blamed voters for not being more careful.
"People make mistakes more than machines," said Jackson County Clerk Jeff Waybright.
Shelba Ketchum, a 69-year-old nurse retired from Thomas Memorial Hospital, described what happened Friday at the Putnam County Courthouse in Winfield.
"I pushed buttons and they all came up Republican," she said. "I hit Obama and it switched to McCain. I am really concerned about that. If McCain wins, there was something wrong with the machines.
"I asked them for a printout of my votes," Ketchum said. "But they said it was in the machine and I could not get it. I did not feel right when I left the courthouse. My son felt the same way.
"I heard from some other people they also had trouble. But no one in there knew how to fix it," said Ketchum, who is not related to Menis Ketchum, a Democratic Supreme Court candidate.
Ketchum's son, Chris, said he had the same problem. And Bobbi Oates of Scott Depot said her vote for incumbent Democratic Sen. John D. Rockefeller was switched to GOP opponent Jay Wolfe.
"I touched the one I wanted, Rockefeller, and the machine put a checkmark on the Republican instead," Oates said of her experience Thursday.
She said she caught the mistake, called over a worker in the county clerk's office and was able to correct her vote. But she worries other voters may not catch such a mistake.
When asked if she is sure she touched the box for Rockefeller, she said, "I'm absolutely positive."
Putnam County Clerk Brian Wood said on Saturday that he is upset there are "so many negative stories out there and not enough positive ones. We want people to vote. People need to know the facts.
"But we haven't had any major issues. We try to explain to voters how the machines work then they come in," Wood said.
In Putnam County, early voters have the option of asking for either touch-screen machines or optical scan ballots -- paper ballots on which people mark in their election choices.
Wood said some voters might not realize that touch-screen voting machines may take a few seconds to record their choices.
"The reaction time [on the machines] may be different. And when you hit the screen a second time, it cancels your vote," Wood said. "When you get in a hurry, if you go to fast and hit it again, you can cancel what you just did.
"The main thing people need to remember is that when you are done voting, make sure everybody you wanted to vote for has a check mark beside them," Wood said.
Ketchum said, "I am educated person. I know what I wanted. I am anxious to see who wins.
"My son Chris said, 'Mom, I didn't vote for the people who came up on that machine. I wanted to go back and vote again. I called the lady at the polls and she said it was my fault because of the way I was punching the buttons.'
"I want a paper ballot. I think it was very bad when they did away with paper ballots. I wish you had something in your hand that is a record of how you voted.
"I never felt that way before. It was early voting, so we went over there to get it over with. We won't do that again," Ketchum said.
Last week, three Jackson County residents said they experienced similar problems when they cast early ballots at the county courthouse in Ripley.
Virginia Matheney, one of those voters, said Friday, "When I touched the screen for Barack Obama, the check mark moved from his box to the box indicating a vote for John McCain."
Retired factory worker Calvin Thomas of Ripley said he experienced the same problem.
"When I pushed Obama, it jumped to McCain. When I went down to governor's office and punched [Gov. Joe] Manchin, it went to the other dude.
"After I finished, my daughter voted. When she pushed Obama, it went to McCain. It happened to her the same way it happened to me," Thomas said.
Jackson County Clerk Jeff Waybright, a Republican, said 400 other people voted without reporting any problems.
Wood said he and Waybright are both very careful to guarantee people's votes are recorded properly.
Wood said, "Voting machines are very reliable. I hate the fact that stories like this are printed. It makes everybody get scared.
"That is not good for anybody. Where the fault is, I don't know and the voter doesn't know. There needs to be good communication between the voters and the poll workers."
Wood offered this advice to voters: "The best way to solve this whole problem is that before you leave the voting booth, make sure on the review screen that everybody you want to vote for is checked."
More than 1,000 voters from 48 local precincts in Putnam County cast early ballots in the past three days, Wood said. Putnam County has 36,000 registered voters.