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Public tests new voting machines

A new state law that demands high-tech voting systems around the statepromises more accurate and efficient ballot counting – and someHillsborough voters had the opportunity last week to try two newvoting-machine systems that are being considered for purchase by thecounty.

Pam Iorio, Hillsborough County supervisor of elections, observed voterreaction to the two new systems: optical-scan and touch-screen.Six machines, three of each type, got a workout on Wednesday andThursday, in six different areas of the county during the two-dayperiod.

“The microscope will be on Florida in 2002,” said Iorio. “The vendorsknow that too. So the pressure’s on everyone, including electionofficials and vendors, to make a good decision and to implement thedecision properly.”

In response to the 2000 presidential election that thrust Florida’selection process into the national spotlight, Gov. Jeb Bush signed theFlorida Election Reform Act of 2001 last May that prohibited the use ofpunch-card ballots in the state.

Before the 2002 elections, 41 of 67 Florida counties must make a changein voting machine systems, according to Iorio.

“The touch-screen is a new and evolving technology and it’s not yetcertified for sale in the state of Florida,” said Iorio. “It?s expectedto be certified in August.”

But the price for election reform in the county will not be cheap.The optical scanner system costs approximately $3 million, thetouch-screen system approximately $12 million, according to LaquindaBrewington, community relations coordinator for the supervisor ofelections office.

“I think all election officials have to face reality,” said Iorio. “It’stime to move forward, time to make positive change. The voters deserveit and the country deserves it.”

Iorio said most people seemed to like the touch-screen because it’s anewer technology, something different and more exciting than theoptical-scan that still uses a paper ballot.

However, many people still feel the need to rely on paper in case of theneed for a vote recount, Iorio said.

Using the optical-scan voting systems, a voter chooses candidates on apaper ballot by darkening ovals or connecting both ends of a brokenarrow with an ink-pen in the privacy of a voting booth.

The voter then proceeds to the optical-scanner and inserts the completedballot. The machine counts the ballot electronically and records thetransaction on paper similar to an adding machine tape. If there is avoting error, the machine immediately kicks out the faulty ballot andthe voter makes an on-the-spot correction.

Systems of either type have the capability of providing election resultsquickly and transferring them to election headquarters electronically.The touch-screen system activates when the voter inserts a card,provided by a poll worker, in the machine.

The screen, similar to a computer-monitor screen, displays lists ofcandidates, one office at a time. A touch to the screen (some modelshave a plastic stylus) lets the voter make a selection. Prompts appearon-screen to correct mistakes, to move back to a previous screen or tomake a final review before touching the “cast ballot” command.An audio component provides privacy for vision-impaired voters or otherswho have trouble reading the screen.

The voter uses headphones to listen to candidate choices andinstructions for voting. The method for making choices is similar to anautomated telephone answering system. A voter responds by keypad. Thetype of pad varies. One type is similar to a telephone keypad andanother has forward and backward arrows along with a select button.The touch-screen system can be programmed for a number of differentlanguage selections as well as for a start-card to enlarge the on-screenletters.

Two USF students who tried the machines liked the touch-screen systembest.

“I thought the touch-screens were a lot more effective, easier to useand faster,” said Anthony Brooks, a junior majoring in politicalscience. “A lot of people who are rushed for time would do better with atouch-screen. It just takes a minute to vote and get out.”

Joseph Gruber, a junior in the School of Business, agreed.

“I thought the touch-screen was definitely better than what we haveright now,” said Gruber. “It takes only a few seconds. It’s very fast,very easy.”