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Supervisors' lawyer urges voting machine caution

7/27/2005 11:37:26 PM
Daily Journal

The Mississippi Association of Supervisors attorney has urged county leaders to get answers to their questions about voting machines before deciding to go with the secretary of state's plan.

But, says a spokesman for Secretary of State Eric Clark, the counties have had that information for a long time, and a decision must be made by Aug. 15. Under the new federal Help America Vote Act, states have until 2006 to begin using federally approved voting machines.

Some Northeast Mississippi officials are asking questions anyway.

Lee County officials are looking hard at the machines. "There are a lot of unanswered questions about this," said Lee County administrator Ronnie Bell. "We want to make sure we have all the facts."

Earlier this month, Clark unveiled the Diebold touch-screen voting machine used in Utah, Georgia and other states. He has taken the machine from county to county to show elected officials how it works.

Counties that opt not to go with the Diebold machines must pay thousands of dollars for new machines. Counties that join Clark will receive the Diebold touch-screen machines at no cost.

In DeSoto County, officials don't want to turn to the new Diebold machines. Less than two years ago, DeSoto purchased a $270,000 optical scan system from Election Systems & Software for each of the county's 35 voting precincts.

Whatever the decision, Lee County's voter registrar Joyce Loftin said, "We need new machines."

Lee's machines were used for the first time in 1994. It's time to buy, Loftin said.

But that's not enough for some supervisors.

MAS legal counsel Leslie Scott wrote a memorandum late last week pointing out that the group asked for detailed answers to important questions about the Diebold touch-screen machines. She doesn't have answers yet.

"We suggest you not feel pressured into making uninformed decisions," Scott wrote.

Supervisors, county election commissioners and county administrators have all the facts, said Chuck Dearman, Clark's chief of staff. The agency sent packets of information to individual supervisors, election commissioners and county administrators.


Other views:

- Alcorn County - "We were pleased with what we had - the lever machines - but when the federal government said we couldn't use them any more and we were going to have to change, what they showed us with Diebold looked like to me it was more simple for older people than anything else we looked at," said Joe Caldwell, circuit clerk.

- Lafayette County - "We're trying to check out all possibilities, and Monday we're meeting to try to understand the procedures," said Mary Alice Busby, circuit clerk. "I don't think anybody knows what to do."

- Oktibbeha County - "The Secretary of State has entered into a statewide purchase agreement for the Diebold machine that has no verifiable print trail," said Angie McGinnis, circuit clerk. "They say you can print the ballot off the hard drive, but it's not actually the ballot, it's a snapshot of how the person voted.

"I've been looking into that on behalf of my county, and getting information to supervisors to help them make an informed decision. We want to make the best decision for the voters of our county."

- Some counties still aren't sure what decision to make.

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