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Pettis works to end punch card voting

By Beth Fortune

The Sedalia Democrat

Pettis County voters may be filling in ovals instead of punching out chads by 2006.

Punch-card ballots cannot be used for federal elections held after January 2006, according to the Help America Vote Act, passed in 2002. That means that Pettis County must purchase new voting machines for each of the 25 precincts, as well as one for absentee votes taken at the courthouse.

Pettis County has counted punch cards with a computerized system since 1987, said Pam Doane, Pettis County clerk. The county may receive more than $92,000 to help purchase new voting machines, based on the number of precincts, she said.

Mrs. Doane, who runs elections in the county, spent Wednesday morning reviewing one option for new voting machines, a paper ballot where people would fill in ovals next to their choice.

However, converting to paper ballot machines would cost about $130,000, she estimated, based on the cost of a system sold by Election Systems and Software, an Omaha, Neb., company. The county would have to pay the difference.

The county also has to make voting accessible to those with handicaps. A voting machine that Dan Erker, a regional sales manager with the company, showed Mrs. Doane would read the ballot to blind people, who could record their choice using buttons, and the machine would print out a paper ballot to be counted.

Each precinct would have to have one handicapped-accessible polling machine. The version from Election Systems and Software cost about $5,000. Another grant may help pay for a portion of the cost, but Mrs. Doane wasn't sure how much the county would receive.

The expense of replacing the punch card ballot had county commissioners Rod Lindemann and Larry Wilson discussing the possibility of combining precincts to reduce costs.

The county combined several precincts this year to reduce the cost of the elections.

Another option to replace punch-card ballots is touch-screen voting machines, which are more expensive than using paper ballots, Mr. Erker said.

Using paper ballots allows people to double check their votes, Mr. Erker said. In addition, using precinct counters would allow voters to know if they double voted for one race or inadvertently missed a race, which would reduce the problems encountered in Florida during the 2000 presidential election.

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