A voter casts a ballot in Normal, Ill. (Steve Smedley / Associated…)
Reporting from Chicago —
A slight blade misalignment in a ballot printing machine stirred up an election day problem Tuesday for a smattering of officials throughout Illinois who reported that as many as several thousand ballots were slightly too wide to fit in the counting machines.
Both ballot companies and election supervisors in 25 affected counties worked throughout the morning to fix the problem. By midafternoon they had figured out that ballots from the bottom of the shrink-wrapped stacks were the right size, and that trimming a sliver off thick ballots already filled out was the quickest remedy.
State and county election officials expected only minor delays in tabulation after the polls closed, only because of a small number of ballots that were cast and placed in locked auxiliary ballot boxes until the polls closed.
In DuPage County — the most populous county affected — only 23 of the county's 360 polling locations experienced problems, equaling hundreds of ballots, not thousands, an election spokesman said. Neither Cook County nor the city of Chicago experienced the problem.
"It was an issue in the trimming of the ballots," said Ken Griffin, managing partner at Liberty Systems, one of two ballot vendors who use the same Addison printing company to produce ballots. "The knives they use to cut the ballots as they come off the press were just a little out of tolerance. If you saw it, you wouldn't believe it was enough to cause a problem. We are thinking this warm weather might have had something to do with it too.
"It's traumatic for all of us, because we want everything to go as smoothly as it can from the very start," Griffin said about 3:30 p.m. "But we believe we have it under control."
The problem extended only to those 25 central and northern Illinois counties — from Macoupin County near St. Louis to Winnebago County on the Wisconsin border — that used ballots printed by ABS Graphics, a company that has successfully printed ballots for three decades, according to Diane Felts, director of voting systems and standards for the Illinois State Board of Elections. A spokeswoman for ABS said the misalignment affected only one of numerous production lines.
"It was only a very small number of ballots, and we are working with each jurisdiction to make sure they have enough," said the ABS spokeswoman, who asked not to be named. "So far, we have only been asked to deliver additional ballots to two of the jurisdictions.
One of them was DuPage County, said Dan Curry, a spokesman for election officials there. He said that since only a small number of ballots were affected Tuesday morning, election officials had made the decision to "remake" them under the supervision of representatives of each party.
That means that each of the ballots that could not be counted will be replicated by hand by election officials on new ballots and then counted by the machine. He said the problem affected "hundreds, not thousands, of votes."
Felts said most, if not all, of the other counties affected had chosen to slice the sliver instead, then feed the original ballot. She also said that in all but Vermilion County, voters already had the option of using a computerized touch-screen voting machine instead of casting a paper ballot.
Vermilion County Clerk Lynn Foster said 56 of her 59 precincts experienced the problem.
Foster said she grabbed "every paper cutter I could get my hands on and we have spent all day catching up. We also discovered that if we used ballots from the bottom of the stack they worked better. They come in these shrink-wrapped packages so I just told everybody to flip them over and use ballots from the bottom."
She said she expected that as many as 600 ballots had to be sliced.
Foster was among election officials who said the campaign of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was checking up on the issue.
"They wanted as much detail as they can get on what happened, what we are doing to deal with it, everything," Foster said. "I am sure they are collecting ammunition in case anything goes wrong for them."