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Handful of voting machines malfunction in Alaska on Election Day

  • Author: Devin Kelly
  • Updated: November 8, 2016
  • Published November 8, 2016

At least a dozen voting machines in Alaska malfunctioned on Election Day and had to be replaced on the fly, state elections officials said Tuesday evening. 

Elections official Indra Arriaga described the failure rate as "typical." Not counting spares, the state uses 304 machines on Tuesday, she said.

The most failures happened in the Juneau area. Officials swapped out four malfunctioning machines at precincts in Juneau and a fifth in neighboring Douglas, Arriaga wrote in an email.

Machines were also replaced at University Center in Anchorage; Moose Creek, in Fairbanks; Auke Bay, near Juneau; and at precincts in the Southeast communities of Ketchikan and Craig.

Two voting machines were replaced in the Kenai Peninsula Borough, said Lauri Wilson, regional elections director.

The University Center machine in Anchorage broke after someone spilled coffee on it, officials said.  

Alaska's voting machines were purchased in 1998 and have been used in every state election since, Arriaga said. She said the state has an "active preventative maintenance program" to keep the machines functioning.

Backup equipment is stored at regional elections offices, including Anchorage.

In addition, at least nine machines had memory card problems. A broken memory card triggers a rescan of all the ballots in the machine, said Josie Bahnke, director of the state Division of Elections.

In the case of broken machines, ballots that hadn't yet been counted go to an "emergency compartment" for a hand-count, Bahnke said.  

The state has between eight and 10 people working in Anchorage as "troubleshooters" for equipment problems, Bahnke said.

Some voting machines in Anchorage had problems that didn't warrant a full replacement. Inspections at the Anchorage elections headquarters found those machines simply needed to be cleaned, Bahnke said in an email.

She said ballots placed in the emergency bin when those machines stopped working would be scanned when polls closed.