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mail - editorial - 3/30/01

March 29, 2001

Unsure about touch-screen? Ask the folks who bought it



After last fall's fiasco in Florida, where a collection of confusing ballot systems kept the country in suspense for weeks about the outcome of the presidential election, many states' lawmakers decided that they'd never let their state get into a pickle like that.

Maryland is no exception and legislative leaders would like to enact a uniform system for all counties, with the state picking up half the bill. But local lawmakers are concerned that the system will eliminate any paper ballot, which would mean no way to do a recount.

No system is foolproof, but the touch-screen system we've seen covered on network news shows promises to make voting easier while producing a paper back-up at the same time.

The machines work much like the touch-screen terminals used in Sheetz convenience stores. But instead of looking at a menu of salads and sandwiches, voters would look at a smorgasbord of candidates, touching the screen to register their choices.

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Then, just as the convenience store device issues a paper receipt confirming the items ordered, the voting terminal would issue a paper receipt confirming the voter's choices. The voter would then check that paper and confirm his or her choices with a final touch of the screen.

Upon exiting the voting booth, voters would then deposit their paper receipts in a bin, from which they could be retrieved in case there's a need for a recount.

Such a system would mean that candidates' pictures could be used on-screen to identify them, that sight-impaired people could request a terminal with a larger screen and that election results would be ready almost as soon as the polls closed.

New technology is always a little bit scary, but touch-screen technology is only new in that it hasn't put to widespread use in elections. If lawmakers have any doubt about its reliability, get those whose companies use it - including Sheetz - to testify on how accurate it is and how often it breaks down. The people who've already bought this technology, as opposed to those who sell it, are likely to be the most candid about its benefits and defects.

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