Archive for Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Voters invited to test new machines

April 26, 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 pencil, county residents will vote by touching their finger next to candidates' names 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. In turn, Scheer's staff will train poll workers.

And beginning this week, voters can visit Scheer's office to try the machines.

A machine will be set up in the office so 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.

The program 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 will pay $289,650 and county taxpayers will pick up the remaining $226,476.

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

The machines are about the size of a large briefcase, and foldout panels offer privacy.

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 from one used with paper ballots, Scheer wants all voters in the county to test 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 this 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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