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New voting machines tested today



Published: Fri, April 22, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



A state official said he didn't know when results of the test would be announced.

MERCER, Pa. -- Mercer County residents will use an optical scan system in the May 17 primary election regardless of the outcome of today's re-examination of Unilect touch-screen voting machines in Harrisburg.

Mercer County Election Director Thomas Rookey said Thursday that with just 25 days remaining before the primary, his office is pushing hard to get everything up and ready on the optical scan system. He said it would be impossible to shift gears and go back to the touch-screen system at this point.

The results of today's test could, however, affect the November general election.

Decertification

The county was forced to drop preparations to use the Unilect Patriot touch-screen system after the state unexpectedly decertified the system for use in Pennsylvania earlier this month. Officials in the three counties which used the system -- Mercer, Beaver and Greene -- have had to scramble to switch to an alternative plan to use optical scanners. The system requires voters to darken ovals on paper ballots which are then counted with an optical scanner. The county will be using a system rented from Election Office and Systems, a company which serves 17 Pennsylvania counties. The state has agreed to pick up the approximate $83,000 tab for renting the scanner system in the primary.

A spokesman for the Department of State said that if the state decides to re-certify Unilect, it is up to the counties to decide whether to scrap plans for the optical scanner use in the primary. He said the re-exam will begin at 11 a.m. Friday and likely take several hours.

Mercer County Commissioner Olivia Lazor is expected to attend the tests.

The spokesman could not say when a decision would be made on whether to re-certify the machines, but said it would be "sooner rather than later."

Criticism

State officials had been criticized for holding off on a decision for weeks and then announcing the decertification of the machines only 39 days before the primary election, claiming the machines were inefficient and inaccurate, a claim Unilect has disputed.

Then they announced last week that they would give Unilect a chance to prove their contention that it can resolve the problems described in the re-examination report.

Mercer County has been embroiled in controversy over the Unilect machines and the election process here since the November general election when severe machine malfunctions and other problems resulted in thousands of votes not being counted. A demand for a re-examination of the Unilect machines came out of Beaver County after figures were released showing that even in areas where the election appeared to go well, there were significant "undervotes" or a lower than expected number of votes in high-profile races. Undervotes are considered a measure of machine error.




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