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Voting machines 'simple' to use

November 01, 2004|by WANDA T. WILLIAMS

wandaw@herald-mail.com

Ever ordered a sandwich using the computerized touch screen menu at an area Sheetz convenience store? Or, withdrawn money from an ATM?

If so, you'll be fine using Maryland's new electronic voting machines, according to a technician who services the machines in Washington County.

"It's simple, very self explanatory," said Dutch Chase, a technician with Diebold Election Systems, the company that made Maryland's voting machines.

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If you'd like to try out one before Tuesday's election, go to the lobby of the Washington County Board of Elections at 35 W. Franklin St. in Hagerstown. An electronic-voting machine is there just for you to practice.

"It seems pretty simple, but it could be intimidating if you're not technologically inclined," local resident Montez Dorsey said after watching a brief demonstration in the Board of Elections office.

Dorothy Kaetzel, director of the Board of Elections, said the state and county governments have purchased 488 electronic touch-screen voting machines.

"After arriving at the polls, voters will sign a voter-authorization form, which is placed in an envelope attached to the machine. Then, they're given a voting card," Chase said.

Voter authorization forms are used to document the identity of voters who use each machine, but how they vote isn't recorded.

"It's simply a backup, in case there's a technical problem with the machine," Chase said. "In such a case, we can contact each voter and have them return to cast their ballots again."

The voting machine is activated when a voter access card - similar in size to a credit card - is inserted.

"You push it in real hard until you hear it click. When that happens, the screen will read 'loading ballot,'" Kaetzel said.

After reading the instructions, voters touch a green-colored square with the word 'start' in white-colored lettering.

Next, a screen containing a slate of candidates or election questions will appear.

Voters make their selections by touching the adjacent boxes. The letter 'X' will appear when a box is touched.

You can change your selection. "You can de-select by touching your selection again," Kaetzel said.

This clears the screen, allowing a voter to make a new selection. After all selections are made, a voter can review his or her choices before touching a green box that reads 'cast ballot box.' This is the final step in the voting process, which can take fewer than 10 minutes.

The voting machine also comes equipped with an audio headset for visually impaired voters. When someone puts on the headset, he or she will hear a message giving instructions. The person votes using a numbered keypad.

To prevent someone from voting more than once, Chase said, the voter card is ejected and erased following each use. "If you try and put the card back in, the machine pops it back out," he said.

In August, Chase was assigned by Diebold Election Systems to assist the Board of Elections full time with voter education demonstrations and to address technical problems.

A touch-screen voting demonstration is also available online at www.mdvotes.org.

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