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Some Missouri voters to experience touch-screen voting next week


Associated Press


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - For the first time, some voters in Missouri will be able to cast their votes using a touch-screen computer during local elections next week.

Webster County officials in southwest Missouri will use touch-screen machines for a vote Tuesday in Elkland on whether to create a fire district.

County Clerk Stan Whitehurst said Thursday that the county is using machines provided by Populex for all voters but paper ballots will be available for those uncomfortable with the new equipment.

The equipment allows people to vote using a computer screen, then prints out a paper ballot which people can verify and turn in to be counted, the company said.

The secretary of state's office said it considers the system different from electronic voting machines, which record votes directly in the computer and provide a paper printout as a backup, not as the actual ballot to be cast. The office said it is not aware of any other counties planning to use similar new voting machines in August elections.

Webster County has not decided which company to buy equipment from, and budget realities mean it will be able to purchase only one machine per polling place to comply with federal requirements, Whitehurst said. Federal law requires all polling places to have equipment available for use by voters with disabilities by Jan. 1.

The local election provides a test run of the equipment for both the company and county, Whitehurst said.

"It gives us some very much needed experience to learn how we're going to implement these changes before we get into a high turnout, high blood pressure situation," Whitehurst said.

The state plans to seek bids from various approved companies to get the best price on voting equipment, and then counties could choose the vendor they prefer. State and local election officials say federal money should cover most of the costs for outfitting polling sites with voting machines accessible to the disabled.

Currently, of 116 election authorities - each county plus the cities of Kansas City and St. Louis - 14 use punch-card systems and nine manually count paper ballots. The rest, including Webster County, use paper ballots counted by optical scan systems, the secretary of state's office said.

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