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New voting machines cause concern for some

February 27, 2004|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

Tuesday's Maryland primary election will mark the debut of the state's new touch-screen voting machines, and while the Washington County Board of Elections has tried to educate voters on how to use them, some older residents are concerned that the machines may be confusing.

"I think it's gonna be very confusing for some of them," said Fran Bargiel, who coordinates the Maugansville Senior Citizens club. "They're afraid of computers."

She said bad weather had forced her group to cancel a planned demonstration of the new machines by elections board officials, and now some of the group members are anxious about using them.

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"A couple of them did have concerns," she said. "They said, 'Well, I'm not going; I don't know how to use those things.'"

Fliers explaining how to use the new machines were mailed to county voters this week, and county Election Director Dorothy Kaetzel said the elections board had taken other steps to make sure seniors understood how to use them.

"We've been many, many places" for demonstrations, she said.

Representatives from several local senior citizens organizations said the elections board approached them to schedule demonstrations.

The new AccuVote-TS touch-screen voting machines allow voters to choose candidates, review their choices and lock in their final selections.

Voters arriving at their polling stations will be given access cards that, when inserted into the machines, allow them to begin making their selections. The cards will be collected and reprogrammed for the general election in November.

Kaetzel said assistance will be available at polling places for anyone with questions. Voters may try out the machines at the elections board office on West Washington Street before the election, she added.

Those who already have tried them say the machines aren't difficult to use.

"I think it's very easy to operate," said Betty Mongan of the Funkstown Senior Citizens club, where elections officials demonstrated the system in January.

"Everybody went up and tried it," she said. "We even tried it with someone who is legally blind. I think everyone understood it very well."

"I don't know how anybody could have any concerns," said Pauline Martin of the West End Senior Citizens. "They came to our club and they did a wonderful job" of explaining the new system.

She said everyone seemed to catch on pretty quickly, and she hoped everyone would vote on Tuesday.

"I encouraged them," she said.

Ruth South, who represents the Manor Church senior citizens, said her group wanted to have a demonstration, but their next meeting isn't scheduled until after the election. She said she hopes club members will vote anyway.

"So many people think the primary election doesn't matter, but it does," she said. "It's the most important."

She said she wasn't worried that people would have trouble with the machines.

"Usually they have someone in the polling places who could help you," she said. "I hope that if they have questions, they will ask."

Kaetzel said anyone who will be 18 by the general election in November is eligible to vote in Tuesday's primary.

An online demonstration of the new voting system is available at www.mdvotes.org.

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