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GA Primary Article


Posted on Wed, Aug. 21, 2002 story:PUB_DESC
Touch-screen machines get high marks in Marion County
Marion one of two counties testing new vote machines

State Editor

Merry Taylor said she thought she might have to review the new touch-screen voting machines before casting her ballot Tuesday.

But after watching someone else get a demonstration on the Diebold machine, the Buena Vista resident said, "It's fairly self-explanatory. They are much easier than the old machines. I like them a lot. I liked being able to review it also."

She expected to see a line of people waiting to vote at the Marion County Courthouse because voters would need demonstrations. But voters moved through swiftly, with seven machines in service.

Jacquelyn Statham of Buena Vista also was pleased with the new machines.

"Yes, I've voted on the old machines," she said. "These are better, a lot quicker and more convenient."

Dave Moyser of Buena Vista, formerly of Chattahoochee County, said he was used to the old lever voting machines.

"I like this better," he said. "The instructions are very clear. You could read it better. It's easy to change your ballot. I didn't think the old machines were bad, but I guess this is more accurate."

Those observations pleased Jeff Hintz, a project manager with Diebold, which won the contract from the state to supply Georgia's 159 counties with the new voting machines -- 20,000 needed statewide -- for November's general election. Only Marion and Hall counties used the new machines in Tuesday's primary elections.

"We have nine people in Marion County today, one at each of the seven precincts and two of us from out of state," he said. "So far, everybody seems to accept it. It's simple and easy to use. I don't think anybody has had a problem using it."

The company's biggest concern, Hintz said, is "just getting training to the customers with such a short period of time."

Using the new machines "really cut down on our assisted voters," said Marion County Elections Superintendent James "Bump" Welch. "We've had good compliments on the machines from everybody. We haven't had any complaints."

Michael Barnes, from the Georgia Secretary of State's office, arrived in Buena Vista about 5:45 a.m. Tuesday to spend the day observing operation of the new voting machines at all seven Marion County precincts. As he moved from precinct to precinct, Barnes found no problems.

"I'll be here until the last vote is counted," said Barnes, assistant director of elections for the Secretary of State Elections Division and project manager for the statewide rollout of the new voting system.

"We're hearing the same thing in Hall County as here," Barnes said about 3 p.m. "It's working on all cylinders and voters say they are satisfied with it."

Barnes watched county voting officials smoothly set up the system in Buena Vista Tuesday morning in about 30 minutes. If all the machines across the county came in at the same time -- which almost never happens -- Barnes said the results could be downloaded in about five minutes onto a memory card. The rapid return withstanding, accuracy, not speed, is being stressed during these tests.

Bud Fletcher, former election director in Bibb County, was assisting the state in checking out the new machines in Marion County. "I have a list of things they will no longer have to do using these new machines," he said. "All the units are handicap accessible, for example. These things are really, really good."

In the future, Barnes said the state will put election returns on a Web site and that organizations such as newspapers will be able to have local returns transmitted directly into their computer systems. The Macon Telegraph arranged to do that this year by installing a telephone hookup where ballots are tabulated in Macon.

"We were not ready to use all the available technology this year," Barnes said.

Contact Harry Franklin at (706) 571-8521 or hfranklin@ledger-enquirer.com

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