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Voting machine ion causes controversy

Richlands News-Press
Tuesday, April 12, 2005

TAZEWELL ? It?s not unanimous ? Tazewell County will adopt a new touch-screen voting system in 2006.

The April 7 Board of Supervisors meeting showed dissent among supervisors and county Electoral Board members alike even though the supervisors voted 3-2 to adopt Dublin, California-based Unilect Corporation?s Patriot touch-screen voting machine.

Despite the adoption, some supervisors and county Electoral Board members raised doubts about the Unilect system?s reliability.

The Board of Supervisors had delayed twice a vote on a new system since a public display of competing electronic and touch-screen machines in January. During that time, Southern District Supervisor Dan Bowling  researched the various systems and presented reports in February and March that raised a variety of questions about the Unilect system.

Bowling said Unilect is currently being investigated in two states and Culpepper and Westmoreland counties in Virginia had problems with their machines in the 2004 election.

Unilect machines lost votes in elections in North Carolina, South Carolina and Pennsylvania, Bowling reported. Another Unilect machine froze during a demonstration and investigation in Pennsylvania, according to an article Bowling also presented in his reports.

Three counties in Pennsylvania last week decertified Unilect after an investigation into problems in the last election. Supervisor Earl Griffith said on Monday that the county was aware of that action and had discussed it with officials at the Virginia State Board of Elections.

Griffith said the problems in Pennsylvania were with Unilect?s 1990 model machine and not the 2002 version the county is planning to purchase. He did say the topic might be discussed further at the April 28 meeting. Griffith said Bowling met with him and County Administrator Jim Spencer April 11 when the call was made to the state board of elections.

Bowling recommended that the county adopt a larger booth-style machine from Oakland, Ca.-based Sequoia Voting Systems. That machine has better reliability and has a greater resemblance to the lever machine panels that county voters have used for several years.

Supervisor Bill Rasnick said the county would be just as well off to keep the lever machines it currently has and not switch to touch screen balloting if they chose the Sequoia system.

Lever-style machines are being phased out under federal law that requires all localities and states to move toward an electronic voting system in the wake of experience with vote count problems during the 2000 presidential election.

Rasnick said the Sequoia system would cost the county more to maintain and store than the Unilect system. He said there was no locality in Virginia where the governing body had gone against the electoral board when choosing voting machines.

But while the county Electoral Board unanimously recommended adoption of the Unilect system earlier this year, cracks in that united front appeared during public comment when Electoral Board Member Brian Martin told the supervisors he had changed his mind since the January meeting and no longer supported Unilect.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Donnie Lowe said that Lacy Hale, who maintains the county voting machines, could not attend the meeting but had asked that he be placed on record in favor of Sequoia. Voting Registrar Betty McCall did not publicly support either system but said the county had gotten 24 years of excellent service from Sequoia.

Supervisors Lowe and Griffith voted with Rasnick to approve the Patriot. Supervisor Dave Anderson, who voted with Bowling said he would have made the motion to support Sequoia.

The board unanimously approved Bowling?s motion to recommend that the lever machines be used in the June primaries and the General Election in November with the touch-tone machines on hand for demonstrations.


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