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Voters get electronic upgrades on Nov. 8

When the voting booths in Wood County opened for elections last year, it was the same old story: punch cards. Voters poked holes in to the same voting device that was the focus of so much controversy in the 2000 presidential election.

But this time, voters are getting an upgrade, care of the president’s Help America Vote Act. When the polls open on Nov. 8, voters will experience 488 Diebold Election Systems AccuVote-TSX electronic voting machines, some concerns over security and a slight learning curve.

Those submitting their vote by absentee ballot will also have a new experience, as the ballots are now counted by an optical scanning machine. Absentee voters will now fill in bubbles corresponding to the correct candidate or issue choice.

According to Deborah Hazard, the Wood County Board of Election’s deputy director, the new machines have many advantages over the old punch card systems.

“Now the voting system has to be [Americans with Disabilities Act] accessible so we have headphones and keypads for blind users,” she said. “With the electronic voting it is not possible to over vote. We obviously had to make a change to get in line with HAVA. In the long run it will save Wood County taxpayers money.”

The machines are also equipped with voter-verifiable paper audit trails to ensure that votes are accurately recorded and to serve as a backup in case the electronic votes are lost.

Losing those electronic votes, however, may turn out to be a challenge. The machine stores votes in two ways: On a drive located inside the machine and on a removable media card that is secured with a lock.

If one of the devices fails, the other can send it the backed-up information. The machines have numerous other security features, including state-of-the-art encryption, battery backups, other locks and voter access cards.

The access cards ensure each voter gets a clean ballot. When the voter enters the polling location, an official will supply him or her with a freshly-encoded access card that allows for the ballot to be displayed on the screen, ensuring no one is able to vote twice.

The access card allows for shorter lines at precincts as well – the electronic machines can be used for either precinct at polling locations which serve more than one precinct.

“Before, the machines from one precinct would remain empty while there was a line for the other precinct. Now they can use any machine they want,” Hazard said.

Bowling Green City Council President B.J. Fischer, who is not seeking re-election, believes the transition to the new machines will be successful, but is skeptical of the need for them.

“The punch cards were working fine here. There is no error-proof system. Also, I think we are moving toward voting all by mail. There are no polling places in Oregon, and more and more people are doing absentee ballots,” he said.

The new machines were recently shown at senior centers around Wood County in an effort to familiarize the important voting group with the new machines.

“We haven’t had anybody that after trying it out has said they do not want to use it,” Hazard said.

Digital Arts major Brien Strancar, junior, also feels the transition will work out.

“I think that we have a lot of good, user-friendly technologies these days and I am sure they have put forth their best efforts to suit voters,” he said.

Other than preparing for the use of the new machines, the elections board has also been busy preparing an updated list of polling locations aimed at ensuring a speedy vote and becoming compliant with new accessibility standards laid out in HAVA.

“This summer we have tried to combine precincts and have 14 fewer polling locations so that there will be more precincts able to share,” Hazard said. “HAVA defines what a handicap accessible facility is like in more detail. I wish we would have been more aware of ADA in the past. We are looking at it with fresh eyes so that now they will be even more accommodating.”

The new precinct maps were made available yesterday on the elections board Web site, www.co.wood.oh.us/boe/

The new system is available for demonstration at the board of elections office located behind the county courthouse at 1 Courthouse Square, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The machine will also be demonstrated throughout the county. A demonstration schedule is also available on the Web site.

Contrary to popular belief, the Nov. 8 election will not be the first time electronic voting has been used in Wood County.

In February of 1999, an electronic voting machine manufacturer donated systems to be used for a special election in the Northwood School District.

Hazard said she saw fear in the face of the elderly as they entered the polling location, and was surprised when she learned the results of an exit poll conducted by the machine’s manufacturer.

“We did a survey of voters and 98 percent of the people that took the survey liked the electronic voting and wanted to use it again in the future, 95 of the 98 percent felt Wood County should use county tax dollars to purchase such a system,” she said, adding that nearly every voter took the survey.

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