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Coming soon: a new way to vote

Thursday, July 28, 2005

By Luke Roney     Hollister Free Lance

Hollister - November?s special election - if there is one - will be the last time county voters use a punch card system to cast their ballots.

In order to comply with federal law, San Benito County will purchase new electronic voting machines to replace the county?s current punch card system.

The county will get 33 electronic touch-screen voting machines just in time to meet the Jan. 1, 2006 deadline set by the federal government. Voters who don?t want to wait in line to use one of the touch screen machines will have the option of completing a paper ballot in pencil, which will then be counted using an optical scan machine, according to county Registrar John Hodges.

?I think this is great,? he said. ?Now we?re going to electronic and also opti-scan.?

In 2002, President Bush signed into law the Help America Vote Act, which provides money to counties to replace punch card voting systems with electronic ones.

?The federal government outlawed all punch card voting systems because of the Florida fiasco,? Hodges said.

The new machines will be purchased from Sequoia Voting Systems with some $600,000 in federal and state funds. The county will be responsible for ongoing maintenance.

Sequoia?s electronic voting machines are the only ones certified by the state, Hodges said.

?They?re certified in California because they give a paper trail,? he said. ?In case there?s a recount, you?re able to do a paper trail count recount.?

In 2003 then Secretary of State Kevin Shelley required all electronic voting machines in the state to provide a paper trail.

County residents who vote by absentee ballot will not be affected by the switch to electronic voting machines, Hodges said.

?The new equipment will not affect any of the absentee ballots. It will not affect the precincts that are all mail ballots. The voters it affects are the ones who choose to go to the polling place, stand in line and use the touch screen?

Disabled voters will be able to use the touch-screen machines to cast their ballots without assistance from poll workers, according to Hodges.

?They (federal government) want all Americans to be able to vote independently without help,? he said.

Two or three touch screen voting machines will be set up in the county clerk?s office, and voters will be able to use them to vote up to 30 days before an election in lieu of submitting an absentee ballot.

?If someone comes in for an absentee ballot, they can say, ?no, I?ll vote right now,?? Hodges said.

Overall, Hodges said he thinks the new voting system will be a good thing for the county. He anticipates that the electronic voting system will reduce the chance of mistakes while counting ballots.

?I see it as more efficient. I feel the less people touching any kind of paper ballot, there is less chance of error?

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