County looking at changing entire voting system

Help America Vote Act requires each polling center to have at least one new machine

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For the past two weeks, the Routt County Clerk's Office has been shopping for new voting systems for all of its polling locations.

To meet the requirements of the Help America Vote Act, each polling center in the country has to have at least one direct-recording electronic voting machine, which would allow for a touch-screen monitor that helps people with disabilities vote. The requirement goes into effect in 2006.

Routt County Clerk Kay Weinland said the county wants to change its entire system to keep in line with this electronic format.

"We would have one paper ballot and one electronic ballot, two different systems. It would be nice to have one uniformed system, which would be the (direct recording electronic system)," Weinland said.

In the past two weeks, four companies gave demonstrations about different electronic voting equipment. The last two demonstrations were given Wednesday.

"It is an overwhelming decision," Weinland said. "I really am trying to research and investigate something that a) is best for Routt County and b) is a long-term solution so in five years we don't go through all these changes again," Weinland said.

All four companies offered systems that use a scanner to record votes from every ballot at individual polling locations. The scanner then totals the number of votes, allowing each polling location to have a final tally shortly after voting ends on Election Day.

Voters still would fill out paper ballots, but instead of putting those ballots in a ballot box, they would feed them into the scanner. The scanner will tell voters if they left a question blank or voted for too many people in one race. Voters would be allowed to go back and fix the ballot.

"The real advantage is it gives voters an opportunity to second-chance vote," Weinland said.

With the existing voting system, voters fill out the ballots, place them in a box and, at the end of the Election Day, those ballots are taken to the voting center at the Routt County Courthouse. Voting officials feed the ballots into a scanner, which takes hours to tally the votes.

The county leased the voting center's scanner a few years ago after the one it had for 20 years malfunctioned. Weinland said officials decided to lease rather than buy the new scanner because the county anticipated the upcoming changes in electronic voting.

The companies also showed county officials voting systems involving a touch-screen monitor. The monitors would make voting easier for those with disabilities. One system provides headphones and a keypad with brail and arrows to help people who are blind vote. They also have a sip-and-puff device to help quadriplegic voters.

"They have the potential to accommodate any disability. It allows them to vote unassisted, which is the purpose of (the Help America Vote Act)," Weinland said.

After seeing the four demonstrations, Weinland said she will narrow the companies down to two and do additional research.

The county is getting state grants to help purchase the direct-recording electronic voting machines. The county will get about $3,200 for each polling place used in the 2002 election for a total of about $64,000. Weinland said that money covers about 25 percent of the costs of the new machines.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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