|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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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.