Democratic U.S. Senate Candidate's Last Name Cut Off on Some Virginia Ballots

Published October 25, 2006

| Associated Press

U.S. Senate candidate Jim Webb's last name has been cut off on part of the electronic ballot in Alexandria, Falls Church and Charlottesville because of a computer glitch that also affects other candidates with long names, officials said.

The Democrat's full name appears on the page where voters choose for whom to vote. The error shows up only on the summary page, where voters are asked to review their selections before hitting the button to record their votes.

Election officials emphasized that the problem won't cause votes to be cast incorrectly, even though it might cause some voter confusion.

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The mistake stems from the increased type size on the ballot, election officials said. The larger type is easier to read but unintentionally shortens the longer names on the ballot's summary page.

So Webb will appear with his first name and nickname only — or "James H. 'Jim"' — on summary pages in the only three Virginia jurisdictions that use balloting machines manufactured by Hart InterCivic of Austin, Texas.

"We're not happy about it," Webb spokeswoman Kristian Denny Todd told The Washington Post, adding that the campaign learned about the problem one week ago and has since been in touch with Virginia election officials. "I don't think it can be remedied by Election Day. Obviously, that's a concern."

Every candidate on Alexandria's summary page has been affected in some way by the glitch. Even if candidates' full names appear, as is the case with Webb's Republican opponent, incumbent Sen. George F. Allen, their party affiliations have been cut off.

Jean Jensen, secretary of the Virginia State Board of Elections, pledged to have the issue fixed by the 2007 statewide elections.

"If I have to personally get on a plane and bring Hart InterCivic people here myself, it'll be corrected," Jensen said.

Absentee voters casting ballots in advance of the Nov. 7 election first noticed the problem. Election officials have been forced to post signs in voting booths and instruct poll workers to explain why some longer names appear cut off.

Alexandria election officials said the problem has occurred since they purchased the voting machines in 2003. Although the problem has raised eyebrows among confused voters, elections officials said they are confident that the trouble hasn't led voters to cast ballots incorrectly.

"This is not the kind of problem that has either shaken our confidence in the system overall or that of the vote," said Alexandria Registrar Tom Parkins. "There have been far worse problems around the country."

James T. "Jim" Hurysz, an independent candidate who's running to unseat incumbent Rep. James P. Moran Jr., D-Va., sees it somewhat differently. His name has been shortened on the summary page to "James T. 'Jim."'

"That situation is not acceptable," Hurysz said. "There's enough voter confusion as it is."

Jensen said Hart InterCivic has created an upgrade for their firmware and recently applied for state certification to apply the fix. That process, she said, can be time-consuming because of security measures in place.

Hart InterCivic officials said Monday they intend to correct the problem by next fall.

In the meantime, Jensen said, the three affected jurisdictions have begun educating voters to prevent confusion on Election Day and will place notices in each of the polling booths that explain the summary-page problem.

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