Scenes From The Polls: Fire In The Third Ward

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Things are pretty quiet mid-morning at the Greater Zion Missionary Baptist Church polling station in the Third Ward. And the election volunteers are just fine with that, having watched a crucial vote-tabulating machine catch on fire earlier today.

Alternate Judge Marvin McNeese told Hair Balls that at around 7:45 a.m., just as the pre-work rush was dying down, the central “brain” computer that’s attached to two of the site’s five polling booths and tabulates and stores the votes after they’ve been cast began to smoke.

“It smelled like an electrical short inside the computer,” McNeese said.

Election judge Emma Smith, who was staffing that computer, said the screen went dark for four or five seconds before snapping back on again. McNeese said it did not stall the voting line and that everything appears to be okay.

“There’s no lost votes as far as we know,” he said. “At least it doesn’t look like it. We shall see.”

McNeese said that after the fire he immediately called election headquarters to get maintenance to examine the computer to make sure that it was in fact operating correctly. But as soon as the repair man arrived at the Third Ward church, he got a call telling him to leave there at once to check on a voting device “somewhere way up to the northeast,” said McNeese.

“I mean, he was already here,” McNeese says, almost laughing in disbelief. “Now he has to come back and fix it later today.”

McNeese said the heavy voting action from around 7 a.m. to just before 8 a.m. – creating about a 20 minute wait for voters – may have caused the computer to short, but he does not know for sure.

-- Chris Vogel

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