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"Electronic voting coming to San Joaquin County"

Kudos to our California Team!!!!


February 13, 2003

Electronic voting coming to San Joaquin County

By Jana Saastad/San Joaquin News Service

San Joaquin County voters will get a high-tech experience when they visit the polls in March 2004 where they'll find an ATM-like card and touch-screen voting system instead of paper ballots and pencils.

The county is the seventh in California to go electronic.

Although proponents, such as county Registrar Deborah Hench, say the new digital system will streamline the civic duty, a group of computer scientists in Silicon Valley say problems could loom with the machines.

The Association for Computing Machinery has raised some concerns to Secretary of State Kevin Shelley over the conversion to similar machines in Santa Clara County.

The group suggested that the machines should print a paper copy of each ballot cast electronically so voters can review it for accuracy. The copies would be collected and stored to be compared with machine results in cases of recounts or suspected irregularities.

Shelley has called for a state summit on the reliability of high-tech voting systems. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday due to a state holiday.

Nonetheless, so far the machines made by Diebold are getting high marks from the U.S. counties in which they are used.

Diebold is a high-tech Ohio firm employing thousands of engineers and computer scientists who create such products as automated teller machines and electronic securities, in addition to the voting machines.

Hench supports the technology.

"Electronic voting will give us the results faster," she said Wednesday while demonstrating the machine at her Stockton office.

The certification process, which occurs after the election, will flow faster because the office won't have to hand-count the damaged ballots. Only the absentee ballots will remain printed on paper.

Hench acknowledges that the machines aren't perfect, but said errors are extremely low.

"As long as humans are programming and operating machines, none are flawless," she said.

The new voting experience will go like this:

After checking in at the precinct, the voter will be issued a card which is then inserted into one of the voting machines.

A page will then appear on the 15-inch screen showing four of the election races at a time. The voter merely needs to touch the name of the favored candidate. The user has the option of moving forward or going back to a previous page. Voters can also vote for a write-in candidate by using a touch-screen typewriter keyboard.

Upon finishing the process, the voter can hit finish. If a race is missed, it will be shaded in red and the voter can make a choice or skip it.

The voter then pops the card from the machine and turns it over to the precinct worker who enters the card into an on-site computer server.

After the precincts close, the cards and servers are brought back to Hench's office and the data is further transmitted to a main server which tallies the votes.

For purposes of redundancy, the data is also stored on the voting machine which has the ability to print a tally at the end of the night on adding machine paper.

Keith Chambers, of Acampo, said the new system sounds progressive and easier to understand.

As for cost, the machines for the entire county will run $6.4 million. More than half of the amount will be funded by the state, and the county will pay the balance over a 10-year period, Hench said.

The machine is wheelchair accessible, and has a special keypad and headphone set for the visual and hearing impaired.

It can also be folded into a suitcase within minutes and carted off on built-in wheels.

Currently a handful of the machines will be used for the upcoming March election which will include a grab-bag of water and fire district races.

For next year's presidential primary, in March, some 1,600 machines will be in place throughout the county, Hench said.

"I'm not going to say everyone will like it," she acknowledged. "There are some people who don't like technology. They can use the absentee ballot if they prefer paper."

People on the streets seem excited to use the newfangled voting technique.

"It will be great," said Terressa Metcalf, of Lodi. "It will be beneficial to old and young people alike."

Lyle Erbe, also of Lodi, admits that he doesn't vote regularly, but still agrees with the electronic idea. But he can't guarantee if the voting machines will get him out of the house for the next election.

San Joaquin residents can view the machines at the Asparagus Festival in April and the county fair in June.

San Joaquin has 250,000 registered voters and a 50 percent voter turn-out -- an average figure throughout the state.

Lesley Koop Thompson
Customer Service Project Manager
Diebold Election Systems, Inc.
415-235-6553 (office cell)
512-413-7618 (cell)

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