Voting machine breaks in Williamsburg

Clerks say voter turnout has been high this Election Day

  • Williamsburg Town Clerk Brenda Lessard, right, turns on the broken voting machine as an election volunteer helps a voter during state midterm elections Tuesday. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • The broken ballot machine in Williamsburg's town office building, Nov. 6, 2018. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • Pat James manages a booth with doughnuts and soup at the First Congregational Church of Williamsburg on Election Day Tuesday. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Voters walk into Hopkins Academy in Hadley to vote Tuesday morning. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The broken ballot machine in Williamsburg's town office building, Nov. 6, 2018. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—

Staff Writer
Published: 11/6/2018 4:48:02 PM

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified the Haydenville Congregational Church.

WILLIAMSBURG — Voting was going smoothly at the Main Street Town Offices Tuesday until the electronic voting machine broke down around noon.

“We’re not looking forward to the rest of the day if we don’t get a new one,” said Jacqueline Dufresne, an election volunteer checking voters in at the front of a large meeting room just before 3 p.m. A few voters could be seen casting their ballots at booths behind her.

The machine was replaced around 3:30 p.m. by New Hampshire-based LHS Associates, the machine’s manufacturer, Town Clerk Brenda Lessard reported at the end of the night. Ultimately, Lessard said she had to hand count about 100 ballots, each with more than a dozen questions on them.

While that might not have been a big deal for a larger town, she said “it was a big hiccup for me because I’ve never had anything like that happen.”

Compounding the problem, she said it was one of the busiest midterm elections she’s seen. The voting machine is town’s only electronic means of counting votes. As of mid-afternoon, Lessard said that 1,200 votes had been cast, including 500 early votes. Williamsburg has around 2,000 registered voters.

“We had every (booth) filled this morning,” Lessard said.

Earlier in the afternoon the broken machine, which Lessard said is around 17 years old with a 20 year lifespan, rested at the side of the room covered with a cardboard “vote” box. She said the machine, while old, had never had problems before. A total of 704 ballots were processed before it jammed.

Election officials immediately began collecting ballots in a box and called for a replacement, she said.

As of around 1:30 p.m., Lessard said a new machine was on its way. Typically, Lessard, who arrived at the town office at 4:30 a.m., said counting ballots usually takes them until 8:30 p.m. She was still working after 10 p.m., two hours after voting had ended.

At annual town meeting this past June, local voters approved $7,500 to purchase a new machine. However, because election machines need to be approved by state and local leaders, Lessard said there wasn’t enough time to buy one before Tuesday’s election.

“It just had to make it through this last election,” she said. “There’s a process, and my time frame didn’t allow it. I talked nice with her (the machine) this morning and told her she just had to get through the day and then she could have a long rest. It’s an interesting twist on the day.”

In her decade or so as town clerk, Lessard said she’s never had to hand count ballots. That being said, it’s not uncommon in the region. A few local towns including Goshen and Chesterfield still hand count ballots, Lessard noted.

Williamsburg wasn’t the only town that ran into polling issues. At Northampton’s senior center, which was set up as a polling location, volunteers said they had to put in a request for another machine because they had so many voters. By mid-day, Gail Kolodziej, who works in the city clerk’s office, said 7,142 ballots had been cast by the town’s roughly 24,000 registered voters.

At Haydenville Congregational Church later that afternoon, Pat James, who was monitoring a table laden with doughnuts, hot soup, and cider for exiting voters, expressed surprise at the high turnout and concern over the broken machine.

Before moving to the Pioneer Valley, James said she volunteered to count ballots in Pennsylvania during the 2008 presidential elections. She didn’t finish counting ballots until 2:30 a.m.

“I’m staying until we run out of doughnuts,” she said. “Election volunteers are the best. I always remember to thank the volunteers.”

Andy Castillo can be reached at acastillo@gazettenet.com.




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