Archive for Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Voting machines to make debut

July 26, 2006

Linda Scheer is living proof that candidates aren't the only ones making last-minute preparations for Tuesday's primary election.

Scheer, whose Leavenworth County clerk seat isn't up for election until 2008, has spent much of the past week in a nondescript Leavenworth warehouse, running tests on the county's 160 electronic voting machines.

Tuesday's primary will mark the first time voters in Leavenworth County will use a machine, rather than a paper ballot, in an election. It's Scheer's job to make sure the switchover goes smooth, and that's where the last-minute testing has come in.

The testing includes making sure machines destined for a certain polling place are programmed with the proper races.

"We've found some programming errors," Scheer said. "But that's why we test."

The programming isn't all that has occupied Scheer's time recently.

Since the county received its first delivery of the "iVotronic" machines in April, Scheer has been on a mission to make sure the voting public has had the opportunity to give the machines a test drive. Her office set up a machine so that anyone could stop in to cast a dummy ballot. In addition, she's hit the road throughout the county to conduct numerous show-and-tell presentations about the machines.

All of the county's poll workers have been required to attend training so that they would be able explain to voters how to use the machines when Tuesday's election rolls around.

"We've had several different training sessions," Scheer said. "And we'll have manuals to hand out to the poll workers when they come in Tuesday."

Two poll workers from each of the county's 37 precincts have received additional training in procedures for setting up the machines, which are about the size of a briefcase, and retrieving the voting data once the polls are closed.

Asked whether she's confident everything will run smoothly, Scheer said, "Yeah, I hope."

Nevertheless, she isn't taking any chances Tuesday.

"We'll have people here from ESS (Electronic Systems & Software of Omaha, Neb., the machines' manufacturer) to help address any problems that might come up," she said.

The company touts the 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.

Scheer wasn't offering a specific prediction on turnout for Tuesday's primary, though she said she didn't expect voters to turn out in large numbers. Four years ago, 16.3 percent of Leavenworth County voters turned out for the August primary.

She noted, for example, Democratic voters have only a few races in which to select candidates, including the 1st District Kansas State Board of Education representative and the party's nominee for secretary of state.

On the Republican side, marquee races include selecting nominees for governor, insurance commissioner and 1st District County Commission.

"Primary elections just don't have the turnouts that general elections do," Scheer said.

Once the primary election is completed, the candidates - and Scheer - will turn their focus to the Nov. 7 general election.


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