Last November - the first election in which the MicroVote machines were used countywide - 145 machines experienced some sort of malfunction, causing long lines of frustrated voters and producing some questionable counts.
During April's primary election, after each machine had been inspected, repaired and tuned up by technicians eager to please MicroVote's largest customer, 27 machines experienced scrolling problems, 25 had printer jams, 22 suffered power failures, and 18 had misaligned ballots that made it impossible to figure out for whom one had really voted after pushing a given button.
``It's clear that the mechanical problems are continuing and don't seem to be easily fixed,'' County Commissioner Joseph M. Hoeffel 3d said at a news conference yesterday. ``I've heard many complaints from voters that they are upset about their perceived loss of privacy. The new machines will have a curtain. And the ballot misalignment - that is such a fundamental design defect - the new machines don't have.''
The new machines cost $5,350 each, a total of more than $5 million. Sequoia has agreed to buy the county's MicroVote system at $1,500 per machine - a total of $1.35 million, about one-third what the county paid - and resell them.
Commissioners Chairman Mario Mele said the cost of the new machines could be absorbed by contingency funds in the county's budget.
Solicitor Thomas E. Waters Jr. said the county was trying to recover all of the money it had paid MicroVote. If necessary, Waters said, the county would sue the small Indianapolis company.
MicroVote officials said they would issue a statement today.
The Sequoia machines should begin arriving next month. The county Board of Elections will then begin scheduling voter-education classes and station the booths in malls, libraries and community centers for tryouts.
Sequoia will produce educational videos for poll workers and voters along with explanatory pamphlets.
MicroVote officials long maintained that some of the problems experienced at the polls last November were caused by voters who didn't understand how to use the machines.
Montgomery County began replacing its 40-year-old mechanical voting booths with the MicroVote machines in 1992. The 900-pound booths were difficult to transport and were beginning to experience mechanical problems. Because the machines were no longer being manufactured, they were also expensive to fix.
MicroVote's system was supposed to shorten lines at polling places, make tallying votes easier, and ensure fewer breakdowns. But in the first countywide test in November, poll workers and voters complained, they did just the opposite.
The high-tech, 250-pound Sequoia machines have the same feel as the county's old mechanical machines, which were sold to MicroVote last year, Mele said. The Sequoia models are fully electronic, lighter and more portable. They also emit a sound reminiscent of a win on a video game when a ballot is completed.
Howard Cramer, Sequoia's national accounts manager, said at yesterday's news conference that the new machines were able to operate through a 16-hour power failure. They are tamper-resistant, he said, with a program that allows each ballot to be surveyed and recounted at Election Day's end if results are thrown into question.