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Wayne clerk rues
end of lever voting
Man says machines did well for
35 years, electronic versions unneeded

Kris Wise
Charleston Daily Mail Capitol reporter

Wednesday October 06, 2004

WAYNE When Wayne County Clerk Bob Pasley looks at the 600-pound metal machines he's used to vote for almost 35 years, he has a hard time imagining what they'll be used for in the future.

"The only thing I could see doing with them is making a gun cabinet or storing tools or something," Pasley said, shaking his head. "They won't be good for much else."

The lever voting machines mammoth metal contraptions used now in only a handful of West Virginia counties were purchased in Wayne in 1969.

In 2006, the county is supposed to make the full transition to electronic voting machines that the federal government says will make elections run more smoothly and eliminate the chance for miscounts and vote fraud.

Pasley, who's been county clerk for 18 years, said the whole thing "makes me sick."

"They've put our machines, turned them into an electronic system, jacked up the price and they're forcing us to buy them," he said. "We don't need them. I haven't had to replace one of these or fix a single thing in all these years. As soon as we get the electronic version, we'll need a new one every couple of years."

Pasley said he's cooperating with the state and the federal government when it comes to getting new machines. He's just not happy about it.

His county already has received one new handicapped-accessible electronic machine. The old lever system wasn't easy for handicapped and blind people to use. Typically, they'd need someone else to help them vote.

New computerized machines are lower to the ground, are equipped with voice-activated functions and have an easier-to-see touch pad.

"They absolutely need a way to be able to vote," Pasley said of handicapped voters. "But we've always been able to work it out. We've made ways for them to vote. It's just a really big job switching over for such a small number of people."

Federal elections officials and the West Virginia Secretary of State's Office have provided millions of dollars around the state for at least one handicapped-accessible machine in each precinct.

But the problems with the state's old machines and Wayne County's near prehistoric ones aren't limited to physical inefficiencies.

Since the 2000 controversy over presidential election ballots in Florida, the government is itching to rid counties of any kind of system that could raise questions about voter tallies.

At the top of the hit list are the punch card ballots that made the phrase "hanging chad" a staple in pop culture vocabulary.

Many counties around the state still operate with the punch card system. Most counties say it's served them well.

n Wayne County, officials don't see much wrong with their own system. The lever machines display all the candidates' names, and to choose one, voters just pull the lever beside a name. The names are marked and a roll of ballots shows where each vote went.

While Pasley said there is definitely an emotional attachment for voters to the lever machines, he also has real doubts about whether computerized machines will ever provide him with the sort of security and peace of mind he has with his old machines.

"Right now, they haven't even come up with the technology they say they need, that will leave a paper trail of votes," Pasley said, looking at the solid and seemingly impenetrable exterior of one of his lever voting machines.

"And how do you rig these things?" Pasley asked. "It just blows my mind. You'd have to be a mechanical genius. It's all straps and pins and widgets and gadgets. There's just no way you can do it."

The secretary of state's office has received about $19 million in federal funds to loan to counties to replace their outdated machines.

Pasley said Wayne County will need at least $685,000 to upgrade its system, and he's uncertain whether that money will be released in enough time to meet Congress' January 2006 deadline to computerize.

"I just don't see how any one will," Pasley said. "We're a year away from something we just aren't prepared to do."

The secretary of state's office still is working to approve a unified system that can be used throughout the state.

Counties like Kanawha have set aside hundreds of thousands of dollars in local funds to match any federal grants, and have come up with multi-year payback plans to be able to afford new machines.

When Pasley looks around at the lever voting machines Wayne County voters have used for three decades, he says he see a lot of waste. Some of the machines have only been used 4,000 or 5,000 times over the years, a number that shows how active Wayne County's 29,000 voters have been over the years.

"People really like them and it's worked well for us," Pasley said. "The politicians in Washington can sit in their marble halls and draw up the best laid plans, but it won't fly. It won't work as well here."


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