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Some Canyon County voters were unable to vote on school levies Tuesday because of issues with the county's new election equipment. Others experienced problems with their entire ballot and were instructed to come back later in the day to vote. 

Problems started soon after polls opened, according to Middleton School District spokeswoman Vickie Holbrook, when a Middleton voter was unable to vote on the district's supplemental levy at their polling place, the Notus Community Center.

Holbrook told the Idaho Press in an email that Canyon County Clerk Chris Yamamoto went to the precinct and explained how poll workers could work around the ballot issue, so that people could vote on the correct ballot.

Yamamoto told the Idaho Press on Tuesday evening he's unsure how many voters were affected, but he believes the number is low based on the precincts he visited Tuesday. 

"I have no way of knowing how many people didn't vote this morning but we have a good idea in certain places," he said.

The county is gathering information to see how many voters were impacted by the ballot problems, Yamamoto said.

When asked if the county will redo the levy elections, he said, "The main thing is how big a margin does (the levy) win or fail. If it is a large margin, it is a nonfactor. If it is a very close vote, then there is an issue."

Holbrook said the district knew of at least three voters at the Notus polling location who were not able to vote on the Middleton district levy. 

The Nampa School District heard about issues from its constituents, too.

"We do know that some of our voters did not get to vote on anything since equipment in the early hours was not all working," district spokeswoman Kathleen Tuck said in an email Tuesday night. "We got emails from some who said they wanted to vote 'yes' but could not for this reason. Some were able to come back later and some were not and that is very concerning to us."

On the ballot was the presidential primary election countywide, and also school levy elections in four school districts: Nampa, Caldwell, Vallivue and Middleton. The Nampa levy failed in November by just 11 votes.

The ballot problem stemmed from a programming issue on some poll pads, the county's new device to check voters in. Ballot bar codes, printed after a voter check, were printing incorrectly, county spokesman Joe Decker said.

At some precincts, he said, the bar codes were printing with an extra digit at the end. Some voters' bar codes allowed them to receive a presidential primary ballot and not a school district levy ballot, he said.

Once a ballot was cast for a presidential candidate, voters could not cast another ballot to be able to vote on the school levy, Yamamoto said. 

In other cases, like in Nampa, voters were not able to vote at all because of the incorrect bar codes. Decker visited Karcher Church of the Nazarene on Tuesday morning, where he said six voters were not able to vote on either ballot. Poll workers took their names and numbers and planned to call them once they found a work around the problem.

Poll workers eventually learned they could manually enter the correct bar code so people could vote, Decker said. Later Tuesday afternoon, a poll pad expert helped the county fix the programming error and voting went on normally.

Several voters at precincts in Middleton told the Idaho Press on Tuesday that the election equipment was working smoothly and there were plenty of poll workers there to assist them. 

Estimates on the number of voters impacted by the Middleton ballot and the countywide election equipment problems were not available Tuesday. Polls closed at 8 p.m. 

NEW EQUIPMENT

Canyon County spent $3 million on the new election equipment, which uses both an electronic and paper ballot system.

“What the machines are doing is it is running the pencil for you, it prints out a paper ballot that we store. We have it on digital, but we also have a paper ballot,” Yamamoto told the Idaho Press on Thursday during a tour of the election's office while early voting was taking place.

Early voting went more smoothly than Election Day. Yamamoto on March 5 said he had only received one complaint about the system since early voting began Feb. 24.

“Most of the comments as people walk out the door have been, ‘Woah, that was a piece of cake,'" he said. 

The process to vote on the new equipment includes four machines:

1. Sign in on the poll pad, which will print out your ballot ticket.

2. Retrieve your ballot by scanning the bar code on the ticket.

3. Insert your ballot into the "Duo" machine and cast your vote on a screen. Your ballot is then printed out.

4. Put your completed ballot into the scanner.

The only machine connected to Wi-Fi is the poll pad.

Rachel Spacek is the Latino Affairs and Canyon County reporter for the Idaho Press. You can reach her at rspacek@idahopress.com. Follow her on twitter @RachelSpacek.

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