Electronic voting slated to hit polls

A new era of electronic voting is coming to a polling booth near you.

When Douglas County voters go to the polls in the August 2006 primary election, they will use new electronic machines to cast their ballots. The main question now is what type of machines they will be.

“There are decisions that need to be made,” Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said during a public meeting Monday night at the Baldwin Public Library.

More than a dozen people attended, many of them election polling place workers.

Shew has scheduled a series of meetings to explain the options the county has in selecting new voting equipment. Changes are being made not only locally but throughout the state and the nation as required by the 2002 federal Help America Vote Act.

Two electronic options are being considered. One is called ES&S AutoMark, which calls for “touch screen voting” but which also marks a paper ballot.

The second option is DRE touch screen voting on a paperless ballot. A paper audit trail is optional and ballot tabulation occurs with the machine.

In addition, “second chance” voting equipment will scan the voting selections and inform the voter of miss-marked ballots and allow an opportunity to change them.

Help America Vote was passed in reaction to voting problems stemming from the 2000 presidential election in the state of Florida and elsewhere.

Polling workers at Monday’s meeting expressed special concern about senior citizens being intimidated by the new machinery. Those concerns, however, were eased when Shew said voters would have the option of requesting paper ballots to cast their votes.

“As long as we have that paper ballot option, I think that is good,” said Gwen Whitebread, who has worked at polling places.

Another polling place worker, Talitha Bailey, said the changes represent progress but she also expressed concern about the reaction older people would have about the changes.

“I think the younger people from 50 on down to 18 will jump right into this,” she said.

Shew will hold another public meeting to discuss voting changes at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt. A future meeting will be announced for Eudora.

On Nov. 21, vendors will display the different types of voting equipment at the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds in Building 21. They will be on display from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. People will be able to examine the machines, see how they work and practice casting ballots with them.