New election methods get test in Cape

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Cape Girardeau voters will be introduced to a new voting method at the upcoming June election as the county tries out new technology that will be required in order to meet provisions in the federal Help America Vote Act.

Voters will still use paper ballots. They will fill in an oval, then will insert the ballots into a slot. A scanner will record the vote.

The county is using the new system on a trial basis and will go back to punch ballots in the larger August election.

Cape Girardeau County Clerk Rodney Miller said an election company has offered the use of the equipment, called optical scan, at no cost for this election.

"We just want to get a feel and let the judges get a feel for how it works," Miller said.

Miller said the county will likely switch over to optical scan next year. He said the upgrade will be expensive but necessary to comply with the federal voting act.

The system will alert voters if they have overvoted. The Help America Vote Act was enacted not long after the voting controversy in Florida during the 2000 presidential election.

Counties now have two options: the optical scan or touch-screen voting, which at an estimated cost of $1.2 million is much too expensive for Cape Girardeau County, Miller said.

As it stands, an optical scan system will cost about $260,000. The state will deliver about $120,000 in federal funds, leaving the county will an approximate cost of $140,000.

Miller said the punch-card system works, and that he would be fine with keeping that system. But it's not up to him.

"Whether it works or not, the punch-card system will be phased out," he said. "They'll stop making the ballots."

The new system will make it easier for the county to count votes, Miller said.

"We'll just take the disk and it will be done in seconds," he said. Eventually, the machines' modems can be plugged into telephone lines and the information is sent instantaneously. But for the trial, county election officials will hand-carry the disks from the precincts to the county administrative building.

Perry County Clerk Randy Taylor said his county tested the optical scan system in the April election and everything went smoothly.

Taylor said the upgrade to optical scan will cost Perry County about $105,000 with roughly $60,000 coming from the federal government.

Scott County has been using an optical scan machine since the mid-1990s, but it only has one machine. The election judges deliver the ballots to a central location where the ballots are inserted into the machine all at once.

Rita Mylam, the Scott County clerk, said the system has worked well for the county, but the Help America Vote Act requirements may force the county to purchase machines for all of the precincts.

bmiller@semissourian.com

243-6635

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