County clerk- Punch-cards gone in 6 years

Sunday, November 3, 2002

Cape Girardeau County's punch-card voting system will be scrapped even though it works well, the county's chief elections official says.

That's because a new federal law will eliminate punch-card voting nationwide in response to the voting problems in Florida in the 2000 presidential election. It will force counties to use voting systems such as those involving touch-screen machines or ones that use optical scanners to count paper ballots, said Cape Girardeau County Clerk Rodney Miller.

Whatever the system, voters won't be punching holes in ballots with a stylus as has been done in Cape Girardeau County since 1980.

Miller, the county's chief elections officer, said he and other county clerks in Missouri worry about the costs of going to new voting systems.

The Help America Vote Act of 2002, signed into law by President Bush last week, will give states $3.9 billion to replace outdated punch-card and lever voting machines.

But Missouri's chief elections officer, Secretary of State Matt Blunt, doesn't think there's enough federal funding to pay all the costs of new voting machines. He said the state will have to help pay for the equipment.

Skeptical officials

The measure talks about putting new voting systems in place by the 2004 presidential election in two years, but Blunt, Miller and other county election officials in Missouri are skeptical.

Miller believes new voting systems could be in place by the 2008 presidential election.

"As of this point, it does not appear to me that the money is sufficient to make the transition by 2004," Blunt said.

Blunt wants counties to have sophisticated voting equipment such as computerized touch screens rather than optical scanners, which are already in use in many Missouri counties.

"There isn't anything wrong with going to advanced, more sophisticated voting equipment," Blunt said.

Whatever system is adopted would have to let voters check the way they marked their ballots and, if necessary, change their votes before they are finally cast, Missouri election officials said.

Miller said the machines must let voters know if they over-voted -- voted for more candidates than allowed in a single race.

Counties also will have to provide special voting machines for those who have vision problems. Cape Girardeau County would need 37 of them -- one for each voting precinct -- at a cost of more than $100,000, Miller said.

As for the touch-screen voting machines, Miller said Cape Girardeau County would need about 300 of them. That could cost $600,000 to $1 million, he estimated.

"It's a lot of money," Miller said.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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