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Voting method must be determined

By Pam Tharp     Palladium-Item   12 April 2005

LIBERTY, Ind. Union County officials must decide soon on a new voting method or the state will likely decide for them.

House Bill 1407, which the Indiana Senate passed Thursday, gives Secretary of State Todd Rokita the authority to enforce a July 1 deadline for a county to choose its own voting equipment. After that, the secretary of state will choose a system for counties that still have the now illegal punch card system. The state wants new equipment in place by Jan. 1, 2006.

The bill still needs final action by the House, said A.J. Feeney-Ruiz, the secretary of state's communications director. About 16 counties are still deciding on equipment, Feeney-Ruiz said.

Union County Commissioner Gary Davis said he expects the commissioners to pick a new system either later this month or at the first May meeting.

"We need to make a decision," Davis said. "It's really past time."

The commissioners, Clerk Pat Hensley, election board members and several council members viewed equipment Monday from Fidlar Election Co. of Lisle, Ill., and Voting Technologies of Milwaukee, Wisc. A third vendor, Microvote of Indianapolis, didn't attend.

The county will receive $130,000 in federal funds to replace its punch card system and comply with accessibility requirements for visually-impaired voters. That should be enough to buy equipment from either vendor at no cost to the county.

Fidlar presented both an optical scan system and a touch-screen computer system from Diebold Products. The optical scan system requires voters to fill in circles on a paper ballot next to the candidates' names for whom they wish to vote. Ballots are then fed into an optical reader that tallies the votes.

The optical scan system doesn't accommodate visually impaired voters, as required by federal law, so choosing that system means each polling place would also need a touch screen machine. Touch screens are equipped with audio assistance, so the ballot is read to the voter, said Doug Simpkins of Fidlar.

"The voting public still likes having a paper ballot," Simpkins said.

Voting Technologies displayed only a touch screen machine, which has the ability to print the final screen of each voter's ballot on a regular-size sheet of paper if there are questions about the count's accuracy, said sales director Bill Benning.

Older voters might be intimidated by touch screen machines, but it's the future, said election board member Dorothy Ray.

"We're going to have to accept change. Now's the time to do it," she said.

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