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County launching new voting system on April 5
By DAVID SILVERBERG   Daily American Republic   07 February 2005

Butler County's new Optech Insight optical scan voting system will be used for the first time during the April 5 election.

"We received 26 ballot boxes Tuesdayone for each of the 25 precincts and one for absentee voting in the courthouse," Butler County Clerk John Dunivan said.

He expects the scanning machines that fit on top of the ballot boxes to arrive within two weeks.

Cost of the new system, that includes tabulation equipment, is around $145,000.

"We received $84,700 from the federal government through the punch card buyout program. The balance of $60,000 came from county funds," Dunivan said.

After legislators adopted election reforms proposed by former Secretary of State Matt Blunt, Missouri was one of the first states to qualify for federal funds under the Help America Vote Act.

With absentee voting scheduled to start Feb. 22, Harold Thompson, a county government representative with the Elkins-Swyers Company, Inc. of Springfield, was at the courthouse Wednesday to explain the new system.

"Butler County has been on the punch card system since 1987. Optical scan voting will be quite a change for the voters," Thompson said. "Instead of punching holes, voters will be drawing lines."

Even though it will be a major change, it will be easier and quicker for the voters, election judges and tabulation personnel in the county clerk's office.

Thompson showed sample election ballots and absentee voting envelopes to Office Manager Tonyi Deffendall and Deputy Clerks Teresa Carroll and Tammy Marler. The sample ballots were from other counties that used optical scanning in 2004.

Instructions are at the top of the paper ballot, which will vary in size depending on the number of candidates and referendums. A ballot could be one, two or three columns wide.

Thompson said a voter can use any pencil or pen, except one with red ink, to draw a horizontal line connecting the two sections of an arrow at the right of the candidate's name. Pads will be available in each precinct and the courthouse for voters to practice drawing the horizontal line prior to getting a ballot.

After marking the paper ballot in the privacy of the voting booth, the voter feeds the ballot into the Optech Insight scanner where the horizontal lines are tabulated and automatically stored in the locked ballot box.

"Incorrectly marked ballots can be returned to the voter for review and correction," Thompson said. "If the scanner sees an overvote or a blank ballot, it will kick it back."

The precinct name and ballot style number will be at the bottom of each ballot. For example, a voter in Precinct 14 could receive Ballot Style 1 if residing in a water district or Ballot Style 2 if not a water district resident.

Thompson also explained how the scanner will detect write-in votes and direct those ballots into a separate bin within the locked ballot box. Votes for candidates listed on the ballot will be counted by the scanner, but the write-in votes will be tabulated later in the county clerk's office.

Election results are stored on the memory of the machine and on an Optech Memory Pack that will be transported to the tabulation center at the courthouse where it will be read within a matter of seconds, according to Thompson.

Persons wanting to vote for a write-in candidate must write in the name of the candidate and draw a horizontal line connecting the two parts of the arrow to the right of the written in name.

Thompson will return to Butler County in late March to train election judges and conduct a public testing of the tabulation equipment.

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