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New voting system sought

Detroit wants a waiver on choice

July 28, 2005


Detroit City Clerk Jackie Currie is challenging a state requirement for choosing a new optical-scan voting system a move that could threaten whether the cash-strapped city gets $4 million in federal money to upgrade election equipment.

Currie, who faces re-election this year and is being challenged by three people in Tuesday's primary, says she's just looking out for Detroit voters.

She prefers an optical-scan voting machine system similar to what Detroit voters use now. That puts her at odds with Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett, who has picked a different kind of optical-scan system for all Wayne County municipalities.

The Secretary of State's Office, which regulates elections, says state policy gives the choice to the county clerk.

On Wednesday, the Detroit City Council approved a resolution, sought by Currie, asking the state to grant Detroit a waiver from the regulation so it can still get money for the system Currie wants.

Secretary of State spokeswoman Kelly Chesney said Wednesday that state elections officials will review Currie's request. But state elections officials also said Currie didn't discuss her concerns until last week, instead of raising them last year as county clerks and state elections officials made their ions.

In a July 21 letter, Michigan Elections Director Christopher Thomas warned Currie.

"Should the City of Detroit decide to forego the acceptance of the voting equipment that the state is prepared to purchase on the city's behalf, the city would be obligated to use city funds to replace its current equipment when it next becomes necessary to purchase a new voting system," Thomas wrote.

After rigorous testing, state elections officials asked county clerks to choose optical-scan voting systems from one of three vendors Election Systems & Software (ES&S), Sequoia Voting Systems or Diebold Election Systems.

Currie, 72, wants the optical-scan machines manufactured by Sequoia, arguing they're more compatible with the city's existing equipment. Garrett chose ES&S for Wayne County communities.

State officials say they've addressed questions Currie raised about whether ES&S can handle Detroit's lengthy ballots, usually the longest in the state.

"I want to stay with the equipment whoever made it that's easy for the city of Detroit voters and they're familiar with," Currie said in an interview Wednesday.

"It's not about Jackie fighting anybody. ... It's about getting the election equipment that will service the citizens of Detroit."

Michigan is distributing about $30 million in federal funds to upgrade the entire state to new optical-scan equipment for the 2006 elections.

Currie, elected in 1993, has been criticized for various election day snafus, most recently when it took Detroit election workers two days to count absentee ballots in the 2002 primary.

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