Harrison Co. Circuit Clerk Says State Knew About Voting Problems

Harrison County's Circuit Clerk says the Secretary of State knew about problems with the new touch screen voting machines long before the county decided to ditch the system. The board of supervisors voted Monday to go back to the scan voting machines. Afterwards, Eric Clark's office said it never received reports of problems from Harrison County.

Harrison County Circuit Clerk Gayle Parker gave WLOX copies of emails. All were sent from her office to the Secretary of State's office. Parker says through letters and at least eight phone calls, she repeatedly expressed her frustrations with the new touch screen voting system. But not all coast election officials are ready to trade in their touch screens.

"The plastic breaking off and the canisters not staying in there correctly," Parker said, as she demonstrated some of the headaches poll workers faced on election days.

If it's not a paper jam, it's a misprinted ballot. Parker says with touch screen voting system there is always an issue.

"We just had problems after problems after problems," said Parker.

She denies the Secretary of State's claim she never reported those problems.

"Right is right and wrong is wrong and that is absolutely not true," she said.

Jackson County initially said "No, thank you" to touch screens.

District 4 Election Commissioner Benton Sanford said, "The complexity of it and the increase work was the primary objection to these devices."

That changed after Katrina destroyed all the Jackson county's scanning machines. Election Commissioners admit touch screens had a rough start.

"For the primary last year we didn't get a good county tech and we had problems. Big problems," said Sanford. "For the election last Fall they sent us an excellent county tech and had we not had him we probably would have had a lot more problems than what we did."

Sanford says because of that support only about eight of the 350 machines went down in the general election. He says absentee ballots arrived late from the state and the work load for setting up touch screen machines is double that of the scanners.

Overall, Jackson County is pretty satisfied so far.

Sanford said, "We hadn't even thought about any of this until Harrison County decided they were going to abandon the touch screen and go back to the scanner system. Really we hadn't even discussed that it just came up and still haven't discussed it."

As for Harrison County, Gayle Parker gave touch screen a chance and now she's had enough.

"We tried it and we see a lot of problems with it," said Parker.

Parker says she is looking into upgrading Harrison County 44 scanners that survived Hurricane Katrina. She says another 30 will have to be purchased, but the county will still come out cheaper than the $400,000 it would have taken to buy enough touch screens for the August primaries.

Hancock County's Circuit Clerk said she wishes she had the option to follow Harrison County's lead. Pam Metzler says she doesn't like touch screen, but Hancock County is stuck with the system because it can't afford to convert to something else. She says the touch screen machines are so expensive that county also can't afford to buy enough to meet it needs.

Officials say touch screens cost $3,200 each, not including supplies.