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County: We'll go with paper ballots
J.D. Prose, Beaver County Times Staff
 BEAVER - Beaver County voters will use paper ballots in the May 17 primary even if the Pennsylvania Department of State quickly recertifies the Patriot touch-screen voting system, the county's elections chief said Monday.

Dorene Mandity said that she could no longer wait for the Patriot system to be re-approved, with the primary only three weeks away. "I need to continue now with one procedure," she said.

In next month's primary, that procedure will be the optical-scan method, in which voters use pencils to mark ballots, similar to standardized tests used in schools.

The Patriot system was decertified April 7 by Secretary of State Pedro Cortes after an examination of the system by Carnegie Mellon University computer professor Michael Shamos on Feb. 15. Beaver, Greene and Mercer counties are the only three counties in Pennsylvania that use the Patriot system.

Under pressure from county commissioners and Jack Gerbel, president of UniLect Corp., which makes the Patriot system, the Department of State granted a second examination on Friday in Harrisburg.

During that retest, which Shamos also conducted, the touch-screen failed to register several touches made by the CMU professor.

Shamos said he would try to make a recommendation as soon as possible, but he can take all the time he needs now that all three counties have decided to stick with optical-scan for the primary.

Mandity said reports about Patriot system problems on Friday did not prompt her decision.

Ballots will be scanned by machines at the Beaver County Courthouse, and unofficial results will still be posted on the county's Web site, Mandity said. Unofficial results should be available late on election night, she said.

But write-in votes will no longer be automatically counted as they were under the Patriot system. Instead, a 15-member board will need to hand-count write-in votes.

"I can't even believe I'm saying that," said a frustrated Mandity.

Officials in Mercer and Greene counties decided last week to use the optical-scan method. "Since it's so late, we had no choice but to go with the optical-scan system," said Frances Pratt, director of Greene County's elections and voter registration office.

Pratt said the initial estimate of $28,900 to use the optical-scan method in her county would definitely rise. Thomas Rookey, chief of Mercer County's registration and election bureau, said it would cost his county $102,000.

Mandity has estimated it will cost Beaver County an additional $110,000 to use the optical-scan method. The state, though, has promised the counties to pay for any additional costs associated with implementing the paper ballot method.

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