It’s enough to make a person long for the era of hanging chads. New technology intended to avoid the infamous hassles encountered in the 2000 presidential election operated considerably less than satisfactorily Tuesday, leading to long waits for tabulated votes in River Forest and Oak Park, as well as throughout Cook County.

“Based on the way voting machines are acting, I think it’s going to be a rather lengthy ordeal,” River Forest Township Clerk Elizabeth Martin said in a phone message mid-Tuesday afternoon.

That proved to be the case, due in large part to balky equipment and also to election judge unfamiliarity with both the touch screen and optical scanner technology.

The first results from the River Forest referendum came in at 8:15, well after the polls closed. Just before 9 p.m., poll watchers at the 1st precinct called in unofficial results that gave the referendum a 768 to 454 vote lead with five out of fifteen precincts reporting. At 9:30, unofficial results gave the referendum a 1,530 to 945 edge with 10 precincts reporting.

District 90 referendum co-chair Amy McCormack said she heard reports throughout the day of technology problems in some half dozen polling stations in the village.

“I think it was just massive confusion,” said McCormack of a day of stress, dealing with often balky and unfamiliar voting technology.

Several stations opened late, according to phone and e-mail reports McCormack received. The 15th precinct, she said, hadn’t recorded a vote as of 6:45 a.m.

According to River Forest Trustee Al Swanson, the optical scanner at the 4th precinct at River Forest Methodist Church, Thatcher and Lake Street, was not working Tuesday morning when he stopped by to vote on the way to work. Voters in the two precincts there were forced to use a single touch screen machine.

Things continued to go wrong as the day wore on. Election judge Greg Ragalie said the 4th precinct’s optical scanner didn’t work for much of the morning, requiring them to continue using the 12th precinct’s touch screen machine. Later that afternoon, the Remote Activation Transmitter, or RAT, wouldn’t work at all. Without it, the two precincts wouldn’t have been able to transmit their vote totals downtown.

“We had to replace that completely,” said Ragalie, who said he called downtown “about 12 times” before receiving needed assistance.

Former trustee Dale Rider served as a Republican election judge at the River Forest Community Center. Just after 6 p.m. he said there hadn’t been any serious problems, although the touch screen voting machine, which seemed to spit out extra tabulation tape whenever touched, causing the machine to run out of tape by early afternoon. More tape had to be delivered from downtown.

The other problem stemmed from unfamiliarity.

“If you put the (ballot) in just a little crooked, it tends to jam,” said Rider.

Things weren’t going any smoother at Roosevelt Middle School, home to the 6th and 7th precincts. Asked if there were any problems, election judge Joy Wjeczorek pointed darkly at a touch screen machine and said, “That machine was repaired at least four times today. If that’s not a problem, I don’t know what is.” Colleague Helen Marion Walters added that the optical scanner had been hard to get started that morning, and was “very tempermental as far as overrides went.”

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