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Careful study needed before voting machine purchase

Richland News Press   Editorial
Tuesday, April 12, 2005

In the last decade, many folks on both side of the Virginia-West Virginia line have envisioned Tazewell County as a nouveau retirement haven like Florida.

But while the idea of a Florida-like atmosphere to bring retiring seniors may have its attractions, last week?s action by the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors may have one unwelcome Florida-like side effect.

The Supervisors voted on April 5 to adopt a touch-screen voting system - the Patriot - manufactured by California-based Unilect Corporation.

That approval came despite concerns raised by Supervisor Dan Bowling about the Patriot voting system?s reliability in two Virginia counties and in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Underscoring Bowling?s concerns is an April 10 piece on the website of the Washington, Pa. Observer-Reporter (www.observer-reporter.com) that noted how Pennsylvania has decertified the Patriot for use in three counties? upcoming primary elections.

Among the reasons for that certification were the results of a study conducted by a Pennsylvania college - most likely the same study cited recently by Bowling - about the Patriot?s questionable reliability in its touch-screen sensing of votes and in registering and recording votes.

In the Observer-Reporter article, Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Pedro A. Cortes is quoted as follows:

?Making sure that every person?s vote is counted in every county throughout Pennsylvania is a top priority of this administration.?

One would think that Cortes? sentiment would be shared by all of Virginia?s local governments.

Yes, the federal government is pressing for all localities to adopt modern voting systems. And yes, the Patriot may be cheaper and more compact to store than some of its contemporaries.

But even some county election officials are having second thoughts about the Patriot system, despite the Electoral Board?s unanimous endorsement of the Patriot earlier this year.

There are some things that government may be able to fudge when it comes to purchasing new equipment. Citizens? right to vote is not one of those things.

If there are questions about the Unilect Patriot voting machine, the Electoral Board and the Board of Supervisors need to err on the side of voting reliability instead of the side of saving storage space at Nuckols Hall and the courthouse.

Otherwise, Tazewell County could get a new nickname: Four Recounts Country.

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