County fall ballot may use optical scan voting

Friday, June 18, 2004

It appears that Rodney Miller is not the type to procrastinate.

The county clerk is recommending that the county purchase new voting equipment for the November election.

The new voting technology is a requirement of the Help America Vote Act and will be mandated by 2006 in place of the current punch ballot system.

Voters and election officials tested out the equipment in the recent Cape Girardeau tax election, and it worked well. The equipment was tested by the county at no cost and the offer by the manufacturer has been extended to the August election as well.

As for November, nothing has been made official yet. The county commission this week approved a motion for Miller to seek bids on the equipment. Commissioners Larry Bock and Joe Gambill were receptive to the idea of getting the optical scan machines by November. Gambill said voters seemed to appreciate the new method. Once the bids are received, the commission would then have to approve the purchase.

Voters using the optical scan equipment fill in a blank oval, such as appears on a standardized test, then slide their marked ballot into a slot for counting. The computer reads the ballot, and if the voter voted for more than one candidate or "over voted," the voter is immediately notified. The votes are recorded on a disk and Miller can punch out election results almost immediately.

However, the new technology does not come cheap.

The federal government will reimburse the county $3,198 per precinct. Miller estimates the machines will cost about $5,500 each. With other additional costs, Miller expects that the county will end up paying anywhere from $80,000 to $120,000 for the technology.

Miller said it makes sense to go ahead and get the equipment since the county will need it anyway, and because he expects a high voter turnout in November.

"I've never been very happy with the HAVA law, and I'm still not because I think it's an unfunded mandate," Miller said. "But we will have to make a change and we're just moving on it."

Miller said the purchase was not budgeted for this year, but that it would come out of reserves designated for technology upgrades.

He also said write-in votes will not be affected by the optical scan equipment. Write-in votes are only accepted in two instances: when there are no candidates for a particular office and when someone officially declares himself a write-in candidate two weeks or more before an election.

In both cases, "that information would be programmed in," Miller said.

bmiller@semissourian.com

243-6635

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