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California counties using cellular communications to stay in touch with polls

By William Jackson
GCN Staff

Orange and Los Angeles counties in California have bought 6,500 wireless phones to keep election officials in touch with polling sites today.

?It?s been really great,? said Neal Kelley, chief deputy registrar of Orange County. ?There are 1,273 polling sites in the county, and each has a cell phone. We?ve been in communication with them all morning, making sure they have supplies and everything is going all right.?

The counties bought the phones from Cingular Wireless LLC, which last month completed its acquisition of AT&T Wireless. Officials are using both the voice service and the Atlanta company?s enterprise paging, a text messaging service handled on a gateway hosted by Cingular. The paging service allows broadcast as well as person-to-person messaging.

Los Angeles County ordered 5,000 phones, one for each of its 4,604 polling places and 396 others for roving troubleshooters. Orange County has one phone at each of its 1,273 polling sites as well as extras for field workers.

In both counties, the phones are permanent equipment that will be used in subsequent elections.

Orange County field supervisors also are using 50 radios supplied by the county?s Sheriff?s Department, operating in an 800-MHz band set aside by the department for election workers.

The new communications equipment s a haphazard system that in pervious years could leave polling places without support for hours.

?Before, you just had to do the best you could,? Kelley said. ?On average, you would have 75 percent of the polls that would have telephone service.?

The rest would have to be contacted in person to catch problems whenever they could.

Orange County has a staff of 30 technical support people on duty to field problems with the state?s new electronic-voting machines. Kelley said that during the first half of the day they had handled only sporadic glitches.

?Overall, voter turnout is heavy, and people are voting,? he said.

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