Archive for Thursday, April 27, 2006

County voting ready to enter electronic age

Voters urged to ‘test drive’ new devices

April 27, 2006

Flag-draped polling booths in Leavenworth County are about to go the way of $1-per-gallon gasoline and rotary-dial telephones.

The polling booths, and the paper ballots voters filled out in them, are being all but replaced by new computers that sit on a specially made booth. Instead of filling in an oval on a ballot with a special pencil, voters will vote by touching their finger next to the name of their candidate on a computer screen.

County Clerk Linda Scheer said she didn't know how easy the transition would be, but she's hopeful voters will embrace the new technology.

"Some of the counties that have used the touch screens have told us, 'Yes, it was very difficult for some of us, especially some of the elderly people who maybe don't like change. It scares them.' But they say now their elderly love it the most," said Scheer, the county's top election official.

Earlier this month, the county received the first of 160 iVotronic voting machines it purchased for use beginning with the Aug. 1 primary election.

Scheer and her staff are being trained how to use the machines by officials with iVotronic and the Kansas Secretary of State's Office. Scheer's staff, in turn, will train poll workers.

And beginning this week, voters can visit Scheer's office to try the machines themselves. The machine will be set up in the office so that anyone can stop in to cast a dummy ballot. On Saturday, as part of County Government Week, the machine will be set up outside the clerk's office and available for the public's use.

Leavenworth County Clerk Linda Scheer demonstrates how to use one of the county's new iVotronic voting machines. The machines were used in Tuesday's primary election -- a first in Leavenworth County. Election officials reported only minor problems with the machines Tuesday.

Leavenworth County Clerk Linda Scheer demonstrates how to use one of the county's new iVotronic voting machines. The machines were used in Tuesday's primary election -- a first in Leavenworth County. Election officials reported only minor problems with the machines Tuesday.

The test drives won't end then.

"They can come out and vote anytime, to test it out," Scheer said. "They don't have to just do it during County Government Week."

The County Commission approved purchase of the machines and related equipment earlier this year. The purchase was spurred by the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002, which Congress adopted in the wake of disputed ballots in Florida that marred the 2000 presidential election.

Of the $516,000 cost for the machines and equipment, the state of Kansas will pay about $289,000 of the cost with county taxpayers picking up the remainder.

Scheer said she ordered one machine for every 250 registered voters in the county, or enough to have at least two of the machines at each of the county's polling precincts. In addition, at every precinct at least one of the machines will be specially outfitted for use by those with sight or reading disabilities.

The machines are about as large as a large briefcase. They have panels that fold out to the sides to provide a voter with privacy.

The company touts its iVotronic as an "as easy as 1-2-3" system once a polling judge activates the ballot on a machine.

The first step is for the voter to select his or her candidates by touching a box next to the candidate's name. Machines will not allow anyone to vote for more people than may be elected to any one office. Voters can cast a write-in candidate by "typing" in a name on the screen.

The second step is for voters to review their selection. To change or make a new choice, voters can touch the box next to candidate or office name they wish to change and then touch the box next to new selection.

The final step is for voters to confirm their ballots before leaving the polling place. They'll press a separate, flashing red "Vote" button, which will submit their ballot. The machine then will ask for a final confirmation that the ballot is correct.

"If you don't confirm and you walk away, it's going to start beeping at you. : It still gives you one last chance," Scheer said.

Only voters who are given provisional ballots, because there is some question about their registration status, and those who vote absentee by mail will be given a paper ballot.

All touch-screen voting is stored electronically, with a paper backup in case of recounts. Each precinct will deliver its computer cassette to the County Courthouse, where votes will be downloaded into a mainframe computer for counting on election night.

Because the process is different than the paper ballots, Scheer has a goal of having all voters in the county testing a voting machine before a real election comes along.

In addition to having the machine available for the public's testing in the clerk's office, Scheer said she planned outreach programs throughout the summer. Already she is trying to schedule a visit to the Council on Aging for a program for senior citizens.

"We want people to vote on it before Election Day, to test it, try it, not be afraid of it," Scheer said.

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