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Kanawha officials debate voting methods

Matthew Thompson     Charleston Daily Mail staff

Friday September 16, 2005

 Now that Secretary of State Betty Ireland has chosen a vendor for the state's next voting machines, it's up to the Kanawha County Commission to decide between touch-screen or optical scan machines.

Ireland announced Thursday that the Omaha, Neb.-based company Election Systems and Software has been ed to supply West Virginia's 1,965 election precincts with new voting machines. Counties have until Oct. 15 to decide which kind of machine to pick.

It looks like Kanawha County Commissioners are leaning toward choosing optical scan machines for area voters.

The commission met Thursday to discuss the matter before a final vote is made on Sept. 22. At the public forum, many members of local government and public interest groups tried to sway the commission's decision.

"This is the most important commission meeting we will have in 2005," said Commissioner Dave Hardy. "The purpose of this meeting is to open our eyes and ears to the public."

Hardy said he is leaning toward choosing the optical scan machines because they provide conventional paper trails. The machines let the voter fill out a paper ballot similar to a standardized test.

Touch-screen machines provide an internal paper trail with a cash register tape inside. The voter marks a ballot from an electronic screen with his or her fingertips.

Chesapeake Mayor Damron Bradshaw agreed with Hardy and said that he supports any method closer in spirit to old-fashioned paper ballots.

"I really have no preference, but in the end of the day it's good to have a paper ballot," Bradshaw said.

Former Democratic Secretary of State candidate Natalie Tennant was in attendance and told the commissioners that she is for the optical-scan machines because it can alleviate overvoting in the precinct.

If optical scan is chosen, the county is planning on getting the optional precinct-based scanners, which will scan the voter's ballot to see if they have overvoted before they leave the precinct.

"When it comes down to elections, Kanawha County always gets it right," Tennant said. "I'm proud of that fact and hope the right decision is made."

Tennant said when she ran in May 2006 for the Democratic primary, she lost by 1,119 votes. She believes votes are being thrown out because of overvoting contributed to her loss.

Marion County, where Tennant grew up, threw out more than 1,500 ballots because of overvoting. Nicholas County threw out 726, she said.

"I've been personally affected," Tennant said. "Whatever option is chosen I just want to make certain the votes get counted."

Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper told Tennant he would not vote for the optical scan machines unless the precinct-based scanners are purchased as well. Last month, Carper said he has already chosen to back optical-scan machines.

Commissioner Hoppy Shores, who in the past has been undecided in the matter, said it looks like optical-scan will be chosen for the county.

"I'm still keeping an open mind on the matter," Shores said. "But that looks to be what we will decide."

Election Systems and Software was ed during a bidding process that began in July to help the state comply with the Help America Vote Act of 2002. Under the act, every state must abandon dated punch card and lever systems and have newer technology such as optical scan and touch-screen machines in place by the first of the year.

Ireland's office has offered to loan counties half the cost of switching to touch-screen machines interest free, while offering to pay the full price for counties that choose optical scan machines

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