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Iowa a leader with new voting equipment

By Joanne Roepke Bode, the Algona Upper Des Moines

August 26, 2004

Iowa Secretary of State Chet Culver spoke with a group of local Democrats on Monday, August 23, about the improvements made to the voting process this fall due to the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).

"Seventy days will be here before we know it," said Culver of the election. "Everyone...all voters...will see some positive changes in their precincts."

Some of those improvements will include voter information posters in the voting areas, telling citizens about their rights and responsibilities, a hotline for complaints or questions, and voter information guides that will be sent out to registered voters before the election.

The major change that resulted from HAVA was the implementation of new voting equipment. Palo Alto, Crawford, Delaware, Ida, Keokuk, Sioux and Van Buren Counties are the guinea pigs in for the new voting machines, but all the precincts in the state will go through the change by January 2006.

"This is kind of a pilot project with these six counties," he said.

One of these new voting machines, called a precinct count optical scan machine, has been placed in Emmetsburg. Culver attended an unveiling for Palo Alto County on Monday morning before coming to Algona.

"They count the ballots right at the precinct. It's instant and it tells the voter on the spot if they've made a mistake. It's pretty basic technology that a lot of people already know how to use."

The ballot is a simple pen and paper. Voters mark the oval, just like students do when they take the ACT test or the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.

"Then you have a paper trail. It's a combination of the old paper ballot and the new scanning technology."

Most of the counties will have a two-year lease with the option to purchase the machines at the end of 12 or 24 months. The state of Iowa, with monies from the HAVA, will cover the leasing costs for the first year of the agreement. The county will pay for the second-year lease and purchase cost if they choose to buy the machines.

"This is a major change and we're excited about it," Culver said. "We wanted Iowa to lead on this effort."

Another voting change is the process for requesting an absentee ballot. Now voters must send in a specific form to their county auditor before receiving absentee voting materials.

"We kind of have a double whammy. It's a lot at once, but I think we're up to the task," said Culver.

With so many troops still in Iraq and other locations abroad, some people at the Monday gathering shared their concern with Culver that the soldiers wouldn't have the opportunity to vote in the November election.

Men and women serving overseas have two options for voting in the November election, said Culver. They can use the request form and vote with an absentee ballot, or they can ask a family member to vote for them by proxy.

"We're working hard on (ballots to the troops). We're making a special effort and we'll follow up on it," he said.

To date 52,000 people in Iowa have signed up for absentee ballots for the 2004 election.

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