A change for votes

County considers system upgrade

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— Routt County voters should see big changes by the time the August primary election arrives.

County election officials are working to alter the voting system because of pending deadlines stipulated by federal and state laws.

The county's old voting equipment no longer is certified, and the county has been leasing acceptable equipment while election officials consider what machines to purchase, Routt County Clerk Kay Weinland said.

The county is required to provide handicapped-accessible voting machines at each polling location. Some of the machines the county could purchase have the ability to allow quadriplegics and other disabled voters to vote without assistance.

"I love the prospect of accessible voting," Weinland said.

The county also is required to have second-chance voting, Weinland said. In the past, the ballots of voters who incorrectly marked their ballots -- such as voting for two candidates running for the same office -- were not counted. The new voting system will allow voters to go back and re-mark their selections, and the machines could speed up the vote-counting process.

Of course, the new equipment will cost money. But the county should get some help.

The Secretary of State's Office will be distributing federal funds to help counties pay for the changes required by the Help America Vote Act. Routt Coun--ty will receive about $140,750, Weinland said. She estimates the new equipment will cost $200,000 to $250,000, not including training and maintenance.

Weinland doesn't know how many machines the county will purchase, so county polling places could have a combination of new and older technology. She estimates that a minimum of 10 machines will be needed.

Weinland said there are four voting equipment vendors that have, or soon will have, their machines nationally certified as required by law. Two of those companies visited Routt County last week to demonstrate their machines.

Election officials also are considering changing the county's precinct system. Instead of having nearly 20 precincts, voters may have eight locations throughout the county to choose from. Voters would be able to cast their ballots at the most convenient polling location instead of the one closest to their homes.

"There will no longer just be neighborhood polling locations," Weinland said. "It really changes the whole perspective."

The county is not required to offer the flexible voting locations, Weinland said, but election officials are enticed by the convenience the change would make for voters. Also, she said, the county may be able to save money. The county must provide handicapped-accessible mach--ines at each voting location.

The county also will continue to offer early and absentee voting options.

"All three are moving forward for convenience," she said. "I hope it increases voter participation."

Weinland said she has been thinking about the changes for years, but now that it's time to make decisions, she wants to do what's best for Routt County.

"It's going to be a challenging year," Weinland said. "It's exciting."

Weinland hopes to purchase the new machines by June. The next step, she said, will be to provide community outreach and public education about the modern voting technology.

"We want to make sure people are comfortable," she said.

--o reach Dana Strongin, call 871-4229 or e-mail dstrongin@steamboatpilot.com

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