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One county opts for backup vote plan

By JOHN MARTIN Evansville Courier & Press August 27, 2004

INDIANAPOLIS - Vanderburgh and two other Indiana counties are still waiting to see if their touch-screen voting systems pass required federal tests in time to be used in the Nov. 2 election.

Another county, however, says its wait is over.

Johnson County Clerk Jill Jackson told the Indiana Election Commission on Thursday that since touch-screen equipment made by Election Systems & Software remains uncertified, she is putting a backup plan in place for the fall election.

That plan uses an optical scan voting system, in which voters mark paper ballots and slide them through a ballot-reading machine.

"We chose to take a more proactive approach," Jackson said. "We gave (Election Systems & Software) an Aug. 20 deadline" to get the touch-screen equipment certified. "Since that was not met, this gives us several weeks to prepare for the election, rather than just sitting and hoping."

Election backup plans for Vanderburgh, Henry and Wayne counties also involve optical-scan voting. Vanderburgh County Clerk Marsha Abell and Henry County Clerk Patricia French say their counties will use the touch-screen equipment if it's certified by the state's Oct. 1 deadline.

Wayne County Clerk Sue Anne Lower said she still hasn't decided whether to wait longer for certification of the touch-screen equipment or to put the backup plan in place.

None of the four counties that have used the touch-screen equipment have reported any problems. But, as Election Commission Chairman Brian Burdick said, "It's got to be legal."

The four counties bought equipment from Election Systems & Software believing it was certified, only to find out later that it was not.

State Election Commission members made clear Thursday that no waivers will be granted for the Nov. 2 general election.

"I can just tell you from my position that I will not agree to do what we did in the primary and permit uncertified equipment to be used," Burdick said.

Another commission member, Boonville, Ind., attorney Anthony Long, agreed, saying he would be "very reluctant to vote for any similar treatment in the fall election."

Election Systems & Software has posted a $10 million bond to cover the costs of getting the four affected counties a certified system to use for the election in case the touch-screen system isn't certified in time.

John Groh, senior vice president of Election Systems & Software, has told Vanderburgh County election officials that the chance of the touch-screen equipment being certified by Oct. 1 is 85 percent.

"Election Systems & Software has exactly the same goal as the Election Commission in the four counties," Groh said Thursday. "A secure, reliable election on a certified system. Uppermost in our minds is to get the certification event done and completed by Oct. 1."

Johnson County election officials have been outspoken in their criticism of Election Systems & Software, questioning the company's integrity and considering whether to terminate the company's contract.

But on Thursday, Jackson said the company has been helpful recently, despite her decision to move forward with the backup plan for the fall election.

Abell said she's been pleased with the vendor's service.

"We have as good a relationship as we have had in the last 30 years with a company," Abell said, but added she would not ask the state to grant another waiver for uncertified voting equipment.

Vanderburgh County Election Board President Mark Foster, who attended Thursday's State Election Commission meeting, said he's confident in the touch-screen system's reliability.

Another Vanderburgh County Election Board member, Don Vowels, said one advantage to the optical-scan system is the paper trail it leaves. But, Vowels added, the touch-screen system worked flawlessly in the May primary.

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