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County examines election machines
Stephanie Miller
Midland Reporter Telegram
 As soon as this fall, Midland voters might be able to cast their ballots with the help of a breath device, touch screen and other state-of-the-art features.

County residents, officials and election workers gathered Wednesday for the demonstrations of two electronic voting machines, the iVotronic Touch Screen Voting System and the AutoMARK Voter Assist Terminal.

Both fulfill the Help America Vote Act requirement, a 2002 federal mandate requiring all voting precincts to have at least one electronic voting machine by January 2006.

"This would allow a visually impaired or a language impaired voter to vote a private ballot and I think voting on either one of these machines, you are less apt to make a mistake on the ballot," Midland County Elections Administrator Ruth Sloan said.

The company selling the machines is Election Systems & Software.

The iVotronic has a personalized electronic ballot that stores the ballots and activates the electronic system. It alerts voters of undervoting and overvoting and gives voters a final review before casting the ballots.

Dallas County has used the iVotronic since 1998 and Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, has 2,600 units for its estimated 515 voting precincts. Ector County, which currently has a punch card voting system, is considering iVotronic, which is used statewide in Florida, Maryland and Georgia.

The iVotronic costs an estimated $3,995 per unit and has been available since the 1990s.

The AutoMARK is the latest technology equipped with an optic scan system, or paper ballot, Midland County's current voting system.

The machine can scan either side of an election ballot and has a breath-activated sip/puff tube for voters who are not able to activate the touch screen or touch pad, such as quadriplegics. It also has a summary page verification alerting voters of unmarked races or undervotes.

The AutoMARK comes with an Americans with Disabilities Act-approved table with a security screen. Ohio, Michigan, South Dakota, North Dakota and South Carolina have adopted the AutoMARK, which costs an estimated $5,400 per unit.

Katherine Thomas, an alternate election judge, leaned toward the AutoMARK because "you have a paper trail and you can make corrections if you need to," she said.

The prices of both voting machines include accessories that make it precinct-ready. Both have features, such as headphones and a voice-automated synthesizer, to assist visually-impaired voters and language-impaired voters.

The county could use the $816,000 it received in March from Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams to purchase the machines and thus meet its HAVA requirement.

In addition to purchasing a minimum of 39 machines one for each voting precinct to fulfill the HAVA mandate, some of the county's HAVA funds will be used for educational purposes to train election workers and the public on how to use the voting machines.

Any eligible voter, regardless of an impediment, can use the equipment. But for those who choose, paper ballots will be available at voting polls.

The iVotronic electronic voting machine has been certified, however the AutoMARK is not. The state is awaiting federal certification on the equipment, which is expected at the end of May.

Though the iVotronic and AutoMARK were demonstrated, the county has considered other equipment from two other vendors.

Sloan said she's close to making a decision and hopes to have the voting equipment in place by this November for the constitutional elections.

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