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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Voters Try Out Hi-Tech Democracy

NEW YORK -- Touch-screen and other high-tech voting machines were due to make their full-scale debut Tuesday in more than 200 counties across the United States, with officials anxious to avoid the kind of snags that created Florida's primary mess in September.

Election officials have spent countless hours training poll workers and educating voters on how the digital tallying machines work. But analysts expect some trouble -- if problems experienced during primaries and early voting are any indication.

"Brand-new stuff is going to [fail] at a higher rate than stuff that's been around for five or six years,'' said Rebecca Mercuri, a Bryn Mawr College professor who studies election technology.

The closer an election, the greater the impact of any troubles.

And while counties are buying systems for better reliability, what they may be getting is the complete opposite because machines lack paper backups, said Kimbell Brace, president of Election Data Services, a research company in Washington.

"The reliability of the election is only as reliable as the machine can be,'' Brace said.

Machines alone aren't to blame. Inadequate training for poll workers and poor planning were blamed for troubles in Florida and Maryland during the Sept. 10 primaries.

For Tuesday's elections, 510 of the nation's counties -- or 16 percent -- are using electronic voting systems, up from 293 counties in 2000, according to Election Data Services.

Many of the counties rushed to replace outdated equipment to avoid a balloting fiasco like the one that besmirched the 2000 presidential vote in Florida. And that meant that machines were deployed more quickly than reasonable, analysts say.

Doug Lewis of the Election Center, a training organization for election administrators, said new equipment usually debuts in odd-number years to work out kinks through smaller elections.

For the Florida primaries, Miami-Dade and Broward counties failed to adequately train poll workers on new touch-screen machines, which also took longer to boot up than anticipated. Thousands of votes weren't counted until days after the election.

Hoping to make Tuesday go more smoothly, Broward had paid county employees rather than volunteer poll workers to take charge of preparing and troubleshooting machines. Miami-Dade also planned to boot the machines several hours earlier.

But voter unfamiliarity with the machines also dogged the Broward balloting and could again.

Wake County, North Carolina, meanwhile, is having to track down nearly 300 people who cast early ballots because their choices weren't properly recorded by new touch-screen machines.

In another early-voting problem, some machines weren't correctly calibrated in Dallas County, making votes for Democrats appear as Republican votes. Most voters were able to recast their ballots.

And any problems could foreshadow a greater mess in 2004, when more states will have high-tech machines thanks to a new $3.9 billion federal law to help states replace outdated equipment.