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Butler Co. first with 'e-voting'
Machine testing wraps up

By Janice Morse   Cincinnati Enquirer      27 July 2005

HAMILTON - Voting is becoming more high-tech and reliable in Butler County - the first county in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky to employ touch-screen voting machines, officials say.

Today, bipartisan pairs of elections workers, under supervision of an independent vendor, are expected to finish the eight-day process of testing 1,280 "e-voting" machines in a warehouse here.

The testing, mandatory under federal law, is a step toward putting the machines to use in the Nov. 8 general election, six months before the U.S. government's deadline for replacing problem-ridden punch-card voting systems that created havoc in the 2000 presidential race.

Elections officials are also launching training and education programs. The machines will be demonstrated "in every corner of the county," said Betty McGary, Butler's deputy director of elections.

They'll be at public places ranging including senior citizens' halls, libraries and government offices, she said.

"It's going to require some education," she said, "because most of us, including me, have been using a punch-card for our entire voting lives. But I think this is a situation where change can be good, and I think the voters are going to be pleasantly surprised that this new voting system is easy and secure - and it's fun."

Since Sunday, voters have received their first glimpse of the new machines at the Democratic and Republican parties' booths at the county fair.

Each machine weighs about 20 pounds, displays voting choices on a screen that is about the size of a legal writing pad and, when folded, is a little bigger than a standard laptop computer case.

Cynthia Dye Wimmers, 48, of Fairfield, stopped by the Democrats' booth and tried out one of the machines Tuesday.

"I was worried it was going to be a little bit complicated. But it was extremely simple," she said. "You just put the card in the slot, touch the screen with your choices, take out the card and go."

Elections volunteer Bob Imhoff said people who try out the new system like them.

"The remarks I hear most are, 'Wow!' and 'Neat!' " Imhoff said. "Most people feel it's reliable and confidential - and fun. They leave with smiles on their faces."

The testers and fairgoers are casting votes in made-up races, featuring "candidates" such as astronauts Neil Armstrong and John Glenn for "minister of space travel," deceased singers Rosemary Clooney and Dean Martin versus Doris Day for "minister of music," or historic visionaries Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein for "school district A."

The county bought the machines from Diebold Election Systems Inc. with about $3.5 million from the federal Help America Vote Act, which requires all states to replace punch-card voting systems by May 2006.

Neighboring Warren and Clermont counties are opting for optical-scan systems, in which voters blacken ovals with pencils. But Clermont, which hasn't chosen a vendor for its machines, joined Hamilton and other counties in a lawsuit against Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell. They take issue with his office setting a deadline that required counties to choose an election-machine system before some manufacturers' machines were ready.

James Lee, spokesman for Blackwell, declined to discuss the lawsuit Tuesday. But he said Butler will be the first county in Greater Cincinnati to begin using the e-voting machines. He said 34 other counties in Ohio also have ed the machines.

Many Kentucky counties - including Kenton, Boone and Campbell - have been using computerized systems since the 1990s. But those systems are "push-button," not touch-screen - and don't provide a paper receipt that can be used during recounts, said Campbell County Clerk Jack Snodgrass.

He said those counties will be adding at least one touch-screen voting terminal in each precinct because those machines allow people with disabilities to vote without help from another person, as federal law requires. And, he said, as the push-button machines wear out, they will be upgraded to the touch-screen models.

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