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TRUMBULL ELECTIONS Touch-screen voting machines roll in



Published: Sat, July 2, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



There will be a massive education program between now and November.

WARREN -- Forget about lining up a stylus to punch holes in a card. Come November's general election, Trumbull County voters will point at a screen.

"Your stylus is your finger. If you can order a sandwich at Sheetz, you can run these computers," said Rokey W. Suleman II, deputy elections director.

He's referring to the 766 Diebold AccuVote-TSX System with printer units that the Trumbull County Board of Elections took delivery of last week. These two-tone gray "direct recording electronic machines" weigh 27 pounds vs. the old system's 19 pounds per voting unit; pollworkers will handle the equipment themselves on Election Day.

The sleek, new self-contained units wait in the shadows of 40-year-old pull-lever voting booths -- monoliths now used as sound barriers on election nights; and the stylus system that county voters had used since 1980.

"We're relegating them to the back bins of the office right now, but we're going to move forward in November," Suleman said of the new system -- a $2 million venture paid for by the federal government through the state. "It's a good transition."

Getting prepared

No local dollars were used for the initial purchase of voting machines from Diebold. There will be local costs for carts, shelving and some equipment including a card reader for vote recounts.

Suleman and Kelly S. Pallante, elections director, will launch a massive outreach program between now and November to teach public groups and visitors at public places just how easy the new system is.

"Our goal is to get this machine in front of as many voters as possible between now and the election, so the first time somebody sees it is not at the polls," he said.

"It's a very simple machine," he added. "It's just going to be a matter of exposing the voters to a new way to do it."

Also to be done is a thorough check-over and programming of each machine by Diebold, the Ohio secretary of state's staff and the elections board crew. The contract between Diebold and the county is for five years.

Machine operations

The new units stand about chest-level and have a bright and easy to read 11-by-14-inch liquid crystal display screen. A demonstration given to The Vindicator last week showed the system is easy to learn without assistance. Here's how it works:

U A pollworker will give the voter an "access card" coded for a particular precinct, and -- for a primary election -- that voter's political party. The voter sticks this card into the machine's slot, face forward, until it clicks.

U The voter may then select large or small text, high or low contrast, and then touch "next" for the next page. Pointing at "next" keeps the pages moving forward.

U Now appearing on the screen are the candidates' names in particular races. One touch anywhere in the name field selects the desired candidate, or candidates in races with two or more people. To negate a vote and change it, touch that name again and make another selection.

U A "write in" option allows the voter to touch-type the candidate's name.

U A "summary page" lets the voter see what he or she has done so far. When voting is completed, the summary page lets the voter review candidate choices. Pointing at "cast ballot" at this point finishes the process, and the "access card" pops out of the unit.

U A paper printout of the summary page rolls out, but stays contained in the machine as the official ballot of record. It rolls out in such a fashion that prying eyes cannot view it.

"People will be able to see their vote twice -- on the screen and on the paper," Suleman said. The state Legislature passed a bill about a year ago requiring a paper trail for all voting systems.

The units have headphones and a keypad for the blind.

U At the end of the day, poll workers turn the units off. They return to the elections board headquarters the units' "data cards" -- no bigger than a thick credit card -- in locked, precinct-coded boxes. The votes are then uploaded immediately into a secure and stand-alone computer system that cannot be hacked into.

U Voting results are then uploaded to the elections board's Web site and to the secretary of state.

"It's an immediate thing," Suleman said. "People are going to get their results much faster."




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