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County hails high-tech voting system
By Robert D. Dávila Sacramento Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PDT Tuesday, October 5, 2004
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Sacramento County election officials on Monday unveiled a new, high-tech voting process for the Nov. 2 election that is expected to make ballots easier to cast and faster to count.

The optical scan system prints candidates' names and proposition choices on the actual ballot. Previous methods forced voters to a number matching choices in the sample ballot, leaving some in the polling booth wondering if they had marked the correct bubble or punch hole, officials said.

After making their picks, voters will feed their ballots into a scanner with an internal memory card that counts the choices on the spot and keeps a running tabulation. The machines also will keep the paper ballots in a locked box as a backup record.

 After the polls close, the scanners will be taken to the voter registrar's office, where the memory cards will be ed into a computer to release the results. Having ballots cast in each precinct tabulated and stored electronically will expedite the count, registrar Jill LaVine said.

"With the punch cards, we had 60 people who had to inspect every ballot for hanging chads before we could count them," LaVine said. "So right away, we'll have 60 fewer people handling the ballots."

One scanner will be at each of 712 Sacramento County polling places set to open Election Day, officials said. In case of malfunction, the paper ballots will be processed at election headquarters.

More than 3,000 precinct officers will get extra training on the new equipment, bought from Election Systems and Software Inc. for $12 million. Sacramento County is paying $900,000 of the cost, with the rest financed by $3.3 million in federal funds and $7.8 million from the state under Proposition 41.

The technology replaces simpler optical scan ballots used in the March primary election, which in turn replaced punch cards used without incident in Sacramento County for more than 30 years. California outlawed punch card voting after "hanging chad" problems delayed vote counts in Florida during the 2000 presidential election.

Election officials said the new scanners also help ensure voter intent by returning ballots that are marked with too many choices in a race. The scanner display indicates the contest in question and asks the voter whether to return or accept the "overvoted" ballot. Overvoted contests are not counted, but all other races will be tallied.

"I think people will be very confident with it," LaVine said. "It's very easy and accurate."

Monday also marked the first day for absentee voting in Sacramento County for the Nov. 2 election. Voters can apply for absentee ballots by mail through Oct. 26 or request and return them in person through Nov. 2. Absentee ballots will be counted at election headquarters after the polls close, officials said.

More than 620,800 county residents were registered to vote by Monday, LaVine said. That is fewer than the 629,200 who were registered for the November 1992 presidential election.

The current total includes 138,300 permanent absentee voters, up from about 127,400 in the March primary election, officials said.

Oct. 18 is the last day to register for the Nov. 2 general election.

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