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Touch-screens to tally votes for county
Users enjoy technology

By Joel Baird/    The News Leader    05 November 2005

One of Augusta County's new touch-screen voting machines.  
VERONA ? Nostalgia-minded voters in Augusta County will miss the massive mechanical appliances with levers and gears. This Election Day, they'll be greeted instead by a road-atlas-sized box with a touch-screen.

Above the shiny new Unilect Patriot voting module will be taped a poster with directions. But Susan Miller, the county's general registrar, said she doubted many voters would need to consult it.

"We've had 295 in-person absentee voters using this machine (in the county Government Center) since Sept. 24 without any problems whatsoever," she said. "One person told me it was just like buying gas or ordering a sandwich at Sheetz."

And there is curbside service: a special version of the Patriot, the "Freedom" unit, can be carried out to cars or even to bed-ridden voters. Equipped with headphones, it allows blind or otherwise disabled voters to hear the voting options and then vote using large, geometrically distinct buttons.

Miller said that a blind, 91-year-old woman successfully navigated her way through the audio cues to cast a vote.

The Freedom unit sports a standard keyboard for write-in votes; the Patriot relies on a touch-screen keyboard that appears when the voter activates that option.

"We've been very pleased," Miller said. "We were anxious because it was new ? but it's worked beautifully."

The new voting systems are computer-driven, but share no protocols or connections, wireless or wired, with outside computers.

Each precinct will store votes in a central storage system that has 8-hour battery back-up in case of power failures. The same unit will print final vote tallies at the end of the election day.

Despite its ease of use, the Unilect Patriot system does not issue a printed record of each vote that a voter ? or a recount committee ? can verify.

Lee Godfrey, Old Greenville Road, said she already voted at the central absentee machine in the Augusta County Government Center.

"It was very easy," she said. "I just wish I had a printout. With a credit card, you get a receipt. You should for your vote, too."

Augusta County purchased the $350,000 system with federal funds from the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which enables jurisdictions to replace lever-style machines.

The older, 400-pound machines recorded their last votes in the county during the June 14 primaries.

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