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Election reforms on the horizon?

December 18, 2000

Election reforms on the horizon?



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - State legislators in Charleston and around the country seem prepared to make changes to improve the way votes are cast and counted in the state and country, according to comments from a West Virginia lawmaker and the spokesman of a national organization for legislators.

Legislators will be motivated by the electoral disarray in Florida after the presidential election, when pictures of dimpled chads and charges of partisan vote counting were in the daily news, said state Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley. He just returned from a national meeting of state legislators where election reform was a big topic.

"There's a real fear by legislators that this may be a trend and that we could end up in Florida's situation," Unger said. "There were a number of legislators who were breathing a sign of relief this didn't happen in their state."

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"It's going to be a big focus of legislators to try to reform this," said Gene Rose, spokesman for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Unger said he will probably serve on a national task force of legislators that will soon work on the subject.

"I think we'll have some things done before the (West Virginia) legislative session begins" in February, he said. "I think it's important to get things done this session."

His work will center on two goals: creating uniform standards for counting ballots in the state and working on new technology to remove problems from vote counting.

He thinks new technology such as touch-screen voting can improve the system greatly.

"You can go to Sheetz and touch a screen and get a sandwich," he said. "You ought to be able to do that to vote. You can touch a screen, vote for candidates, then get a printout at the end that will serve as a hard copy. You can put in the ballot box to count in case there's problems with the electronic system."

He said Pittsburgh already has such a system and that it can eliminate uncertainty.

"Like at this last election, you could touch the screen for Gore," Unger said. "Then you could get asked 'are you sure? And asked again 'are you absolutely sure?' Then get asked 'Is that your final answer?' That way you know you voted for who you wanted."

Regardless of the kind of voting, Unger said voters across the state should have the same standards when their votes are counted. Punch-card voters should have the same standards, as should all optical-scan voters or those who vote any other way, he said. Preferably, the nation should have one system and one set of standards, Unger said.

Rose and Unger agreed any new technology may need money from the federal government.

"There are technologies that make the process easier," Rose said. "But any reform is going to require some dollars. "A lot of (the potential cost) depends on the kind of reforms we're talking about."

Unger said buying machines in bulk should dramatically lower the cost, especially in an age of $200 Playstations and Nintendo game systems.

"We need to make the system easier, fair, efficient and convenient," he said.

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