County eyes new voting machines |

County eyes new voting machines

Garfield County Commissioners and other officials got a look at electronic voting machines that could mean shorter election nights for vote counters. During the 2004 general election, votes were not completely counted until about 7 a.m. the day after the election.

Under the county’s current vote-counting system, after the polls close, the paper ballots from each of the county’s 27 precincts are delivered to the county courthouse in Glenwood Springs where they are counted and tabulated by machine.

Now the county is considering buying voting machines that would electronically tabulate votes in each precinct, eliminating the time-consuming job of carrying the ballots back to the courthouse.

County clerk and recorder Mildred Alsdorf said the Secretary of State will probably mandate electronic voting machines in each precinct by the next general election in 2006. The office has also committed approximately $83,000 to cover their purchase, Alsdorf said, to meet the requirements of the Help America Vote Act.

Craig Seibert, regional sales manager for Elections Systems and Software of Omaha, Neb., demonstrated two machines to the county commissioners and other elected officials on Tuesday.

One machine scans a paper ballot that has been filled out by a voter and tabulates the results. With the second, a voter uses a touch-screen to enter votes that are transferred to a paper ballot. Disabled voters, such as the blind, can listen to a synthetic voice that talks them through the ballot.

The scanner can also detect mistakes such as voting twice in a two-candidate race. In that case, the machine beeps and the screen flashes a message asking the voter to either accept the ballot or reject it. If it’s rejected, the voter fills out a new ballot.

The scanners, which cost $5,000 each, can also detect both pen and pencil marks and separates out ballots with write-in candidates. They also have a six-hour battery backup system in case of power failures, Seibert said.

Once the ballot is filled out, the voter would either deposit it into a ballot box for centralized counting or put it through an optical scanner, a combination that is time consuming, but may be too complicated for some.

“Less than one percent of voters choose to use this method,” Seibert said.

At $4,000 each, “it’s an expensive pencil,” quipped County Commissioner Larry McCown.

A third machine, also $4,000, that Seibert did not demonstrate is generically known as a Direct Record Electronic voting system, which tabulates votes cast through a touch-screen. Unlike the ballot-marking system, the touch-screen tabulates votes and can print out a paper report. Seibert said the company recommends one DRE machine for every 200 voters.

Since the county now has approximately 23,000 active voters, Alsdorf said, that would translate to a cost of $400,000 for 100 machines. However, the county could save money, Seibert said, by going with the optical scanner and ballot-marking machines. One of each would accommodate voters in each of the county’s 27 precincts, and figured at a cost of about $10,000 for both for a total of $270,000.

Alsdorf also pointed out that the electronic voting systems would allow her to combine precincts into one polling place per town or city or for central voting, in which a person could vote at any polling place in the county.

The commissioners did not make a decision about purchasing the machines Tuesday.

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