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Arrows aim at options on ballot

Vote Tuesday inaugurates new optical-scan system

Susan Redden
Globe Staff Writer
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CARTHAGE, Mo. - It's not exactly dot-to-dot. It's more like complete the arrow.

Jasper County residents who vote Tuesday will get to try out the county's new optical-scan voting system purchased earlier this year. Those who have cast ballots early as absentee voters say the new system is easy.

"I thought it was great; it's so simple," said Betty Green. She and her husband, Howard, of Carthage, cast absentee ballots on Friday. "I don't know how anyone could be confused by it."

Jim Honey, of rural Carthage, agreed:

"It's easy," said Honey, the eastern district county commissioner, after casting an absentee ballot on Friday.

That has been the reaction from nearly all of the people who have come to the clerk's office to cast an absentee vote, said Barbara Smith, a clerk in the election office.

"People have told us it's easy and they like it a lot better than punch cards," she said. "And several people mentioned that there wouldn't be any more 'hanging chads.' We thought we'd heard the last of that."

To vote using the optical-scanning system, voters draw a line to complete the arrow that points to their choice. Then they feed the ballot into an optical scanner, which reads and records the vote.

"It's very simple," said Ron Mosbaugh, Jasper County clerk. "You just connect the line to complete the arrow next to the answer you want. You can use a pencil or a pen, any color except red."

In Tuesday's elections, the arrows will point to either "yes" or "no" options. Candidates' names will appear alongside the broken arrows in elections next year.

Mosbaugh said he believes the new system will speed voting, particularly in elections with large turnouts, because voters will not have to wait for a turn in a voting booth.

Booths will still be set up on Tuesday to provide private voting space but those who choose "could just fill out their ballot standing up, or step over to a table, and then go right to the scanner," Mosbaugh said.

He predicted voter turnout would be about 10 percent.

"It could be higher; I hope it will be," he said. "Special elections don't normally bring out a lot of voters, but we might have more people who want to try out the new machines."

As of Friday afternoon, 476 absentee ballots had been cast, a number that workers in the clerk's office said is higher than the number normally cast before April city and school elections.

The new system cost $252,000 with about $219,000 of that coming from federal money supplied to counties to eliminate punch-card voting systems. County money supplied the remainder.

County costs will be increased with programming and licensing the computer equipment, so the number of polling places has been consolidated to trim costs.

The consolidation has hit 27 precincts. In most cases, the change involved two precincts being combined into a single polling place. Some other voting places were relocated and new voter-identification cards were mailed to voters affected by the changes.

Residents may cast absentee votes from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. today at the courthouse in Carthage and the courts building in Joplin.

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