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Ireland eases fears over new voting machines

January 24, 2006|by TRISH RUDDER

trishr@herald-mail.com

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - West Virginia Secretary of State Betty Ireland told the Morgan County Commission and staff Monday that the May primary will be a challenge for everybody.

Ireland, the state's chief elections official, was in Berkeley Springs to answer questions regarding new electronic voting and optical scanner machines.

She said the new touch-screen voting machines are in place for disabled voters and "must be in place by law." She said the touch-screen machines will be used for early voting and at the primary May 9.

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"I'd love to see 25 (percent) to 30 percent come to early voting," she said.

Early voting runs April 23 to May 6.

Commissioner Bob Ford said he did not want to see "challenges" in Morgan County, and Commissioner Tommy Swaim said people are afraid of the unknown. Ireland said "this is the unknown," but people are becoming more comfortable with touch screens such as the ones used by Sheetz and other retail stores for food orders.

Ireland said by the November election, "we'll know more about it," and it will be fine.

She said the main primary voting system is the optical voting scanner. Swaim said he thought most people will use the optical scanner (paper) ballots.

Jane Greenhalgh and Gary Greenhalgh, officials with Electronic Systems & Software (ES&E), were on hand to answer questions.

ES&E manufactures the Ivotronic touch-screen voting machine, the type to be used in Morgan County. There are 15 touch-screen voting machines for Morgan County - one for early voting at the county courthouse, one for each of the 13 precincts, and one spare, Gary Greenhalgh said.

Jane Greenhalgh, eastern regional manager with ES&E, demonstrated the Ivotronic touch-screen voting machine for the commissioners.

When a voter comes to vote, a poll worker will insert a personalized electronic ballot (PEB) into the machine, and the voter casts his/her votes by touching the screen next to the candidates' name in each category.

The machine will not allow overvoting, she said, and it allows the voter to review the votes and make changes, and it summarizes the votes cast when finished. The electronic device is removed by the poll worker and the ballots are stored on the paper printout in the voting machine.

The Help America Vote Act became federal law in 2002, and touch-screen voting will enable the visually impaired, Jane Greenhalgh said.

The Ivotronic voting machine is equipped with an audio ballot, and earphones are provided for the visually impaired.

More than $3.2 billion of federal money was earmarked for states to purchase touch-screen voting machines, and the number of machines in each county is based on population, she said.

Debra Kesecker, Morgan County Clerk, said seven people were being trained on Monday by ES&E, including herself. She said five poll workers in each precinct will be trained to operate the machines. Kesecker said Ireland "has cleared our minds of things we were not sure about."

"We will get any answer for you," Ireland said, and all the information she receives from other counties will be shared.

"You've erased some of my fears," said Swaim.

Ireland was scheduled to meet with Berkeley County election officials this morning and Jefferson County officials this afternoon to discuss the upcoming election and voting machines.

Jane Greenhalgh said the Ivotronic will be used in Berkeley County, while the Ottomark optical marker machine will be used in Jefferson County. Greenhalgh said 33 counties in West Virginia are going completely to touch-screen voting. However, Berkeley, Morgan and Jefferson counties will still have the optical scanner ballots.

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