Peoria researches new voting option
Electronic system may work alongside existing paper ballots
Thursday, November 10, 2005
By MOLLY PARKER
Of the Journal Star
PEORIA - The two voting members of the Peoria Board of Election Commissioners couldn't reach an agreement on which company to purchase new voting machines from, so they're looking in another direction.
The plan was to buy all new electronic voting machines that would replace the paper ballots and allow anyone with a disability to vote without assistance, as well as provide features to other voters such as informing them if they've over- or under-voted at the poll.
Instead, the board is now looking at an electronic system that will work along with the already existing paper ballots, in which voters draw an arrow between the office and candidate of their choice.
Only one electronic "printer" would be in each polling place, and it would only be used by disabled voters, satisfying the federal Help America Vote Act requirements.
All other voters would cast a ballot just as they have in the city since 1993.
The board decided to explore this possibility during its Wednesday meeting after the two voting members decided they had reached a stalemate on the other companies that had been up for consideration.
Since shortly after the 2000 presidential election, the board has been working with Dundee-based Populex Corp. to formulate electronic machines that were enabled to handle the city's unique cumulative-voting style used to elect at-large City Council members. The plan was to replace the entire voting system with the new machines.
But after it became public that the company is headed by a relative of Commissioner Eugene Wittry, who also owns stock in the company, a senior judge appointed a new member to the board to replace long-serving Commissioner Tommy Heard, whose term was up. Former County Clerk Mary Harkrader took his place, and favored buying machines from Hart InterCivic, the company that is currently negotiating with Peoria County. Wittry still sits on the board, but is banned from voting on the decision.
Harkrader is concerned the Populex system is too new, but she also doesn't want the city to go with Hart if the directors disapprove of the company.
"Since we can't seem to agree, and we're the only two that can vote, maybe we ought to agree to an alternative," Harkrader told Commissioner Martin Lawless during the meeting.
Lawless, who still wants to go with Populex because he believes it is the best system available, agreed
to research the alternative. He's conto research the alternative. He's concerned, however, that while electronic machines for all voters aren't required now, they could be by future government regulations. The city's system does not currently inform a voter if she has under- or over-voted.
"My concern is we not waste a lot of money on a system that we have to replace very soon," he said.
The company the board is now looking at, Election Systems and Software, has had a contract with the city for more than a decade. The machine that would be in each of the city's 65 polling places would accept paper ballots that are now used.
The contraption would read to a blind voter and record his vote or allow a paraplegic to record a vote with the same "sip and puff" technology that powers a wheelchair. The machine would spit out the ballot, which would be counted and recorded just as the others.
The board is expected to discuss the issue again next Wednesday. If the board decides to go with Election Systems and Software, a contract would have to be signed by Dec. 1.
"I want this to work and I'm trying to find a way to make that happen," Harkrader said.