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Electronic voting machines on the way to Hays County
By JEFF WALKER - Staff Reporter
Posted: Wednesday, Jun 23, 2004 - 03:42:55 pm CDT

Electronic voting machines are on their way to Hays County.

On Tuesday, the Hays County Commissioners Court approved the purchase of 275 eSlate voting machines, valued at approximately $2,000 apiece. The machines will be bought under a lease to purchase agreement, paid out at $200,000 a year for five years.

The Texas Secretary of State recently sent a grant of $111,727.70 to Hays County to go towards the new machines, and approximately $97,000 in federal money could be sent as part of a punch card buy out program. Punch Card Systems were recently outlawed by January of 2006 under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), forcing states to go electronic.

Residents may see these machines in November's primary election, but only as a "practice run" to help acquaint voters with this method. These machines will not be used live until January of 2006. Cowan said that she hopes to use these machines throughout 2005 to educate voters.

"I want to go to all walks of life in the county to educate voters so they're not intimidated," Cowan said.

The eSlate machines, manufactured by Hart Intercivic out of Austin, are five pound units with a full color high resolution display where voters can highlight through the candidates and press ENTER to cast their vote. The Eslate machine prevents overvoting and alerts voters of undervoting before they are presented with their clear summary for verification purposes. A display of a waving American Flag then symbolizes the end of the voting process.

A "touch button" method is used rather than "touch screen" method, eliminating screen calibration problems.

The eSlate also produces paper trail capabilities, and offers a variety of different recount methods, according to Michelle Shafer, director of marketing for Hart Intercivic. County Commissioner Susie Carter said that this capability was very important to her.

"There really needs to be a paper trail," Carter said. "If someone wants a recount, you need this option to feel confident."

Though Texas does not currently require a paper trail, the state of California, amid its difficulties with electronic machines, recently passed legislation requiring that option.

In March of this year, approximately 200 of California's Alameda County's 1,096 precincts were delayed or turned away from polling places because of glitches with the Diebold voting system. Problems with Diebold systems were reported in Maryland as well.

"Many of Diebold's missteps caused all electronic voting vendors to be painted with the same brush," Shafer said.

Cowan said that she was completely convinced that these were the safest machines on the market. eSlates are not hooked up to the telephone or the Internet, and Cowan said that there was no way that someone could hack through the system to change votes.

Travis County began using eSlate machines last September. Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said that eSlate voting systems were more accurate and tamper-proof than any voting method employed in the past.

The HAVA Act was initiated in 2002 by the United States Election Assistance Commission after Florida's difficulties in the 2000 presidential race. About 50 million Americans are expected to use electronic voting this fall.

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