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MERCER COUNTY Touch-screen voting replaces old machines



Published: Thu, May 10, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The county paid $870,000 for the electronic system, replacing the 900-pound mechanical voting machines.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU

MERCER, Pa. -- Mercer County's new touch-screen voting system is ready to go.

County election officials were putting the Unilect Corp. system through final checks this week and training poll workers how to use it.

Gone are the 900-pound mechanical voting machines with the big levers. They are replaced with equipment that can fit into two or three briefcases at each of the county's 100 precincts.

Mercer County voters approved the switch to touch-screen voting by a 4-1 margin in November and the county paid Unilect, a California company, $870,000 for 250 voter units and 105 precinct control units.

First use: Their first use will be in Tuesday's primary.

Voters will cast their ballots by using viewing screens in free-standing, shrouded units, and their votes will be registered by separate control units.

The system is designed so the information can be directly transmitted over a telephone line to the courthouse computer system for a quick tallying of votes -- but that process won't be used in the primary, said James Bennington, county director of registration and elections.

The county isn't sure of the quality of all the telephone lines in those 100 precincts yet and will have election workers remove the information packets containing vote tallies from each precinct control unit, place them in a sealed envelope and then deliver them to one of five designed drop-off centers.

Runners will then deliver the packets to the courthouse for vote counting, Bennington said.

Means a delay: He had been predicting that election results would be known by 9 p.m., one hour after the polls close, but he backed off that prediction Wednesday because of the delay involved in transferring the packets to the courthouse.

Still, the results should be available far ahead of the normal 11:30 p.m. or midnight time frame of the past, he said.

Bennington and representatives of Unilect were conducting pre-tests of the system Wednesday as required by law, and everything went smoothly, they said.

gwin@vindy.com




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