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Hearing set for touch-screen voting in Morgan Co.

February 01, 2006|by TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.VA.

trishr@herald-mail.com

Morgan County might see a cost savings if its commissioners decide to use only touch-screen voting, and a public hearing on the matter is scheduled for Friday at 1:30 p.m. at the Morgan County Commission office on Fairfax Street.

After meeting with West Virginia Secretary of State Betty Ireland last week regarding touch-screen voting machines, the commissioners learned there could be some advantages to using only that process.

If the county decides to discontinue using paper ballots, it will receive 24 additional Ivotronic touch-screen voting machines at no cost, said Morgan County Clerk Debra Kesecker.

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The commissioners decided before the meeting to use both the optical scanner (paper) ballots and touch-screen voting, and purchased a touch-screen voting machine for each of the 13 precincts, one for early voting and one spare. The commission purchased a "650" optical scanner counter to tally the paper ballots.

If the commissioners decide to go with only touch-screen voting, the $57,000 "650" can be returned to the manufacturer, Electronic Systems & Software (ES&S) by Feb. 8 if it has not been removed from the carton, she said.

When the Help America Vote Act became federal law in 2002, more than $3.2 billion was earmarked for states to purchase electronic voting machines for the 2006 elections. The grant money paid for the machines, Kesecker said.

The state has a contract with ES&S through the 2006 election. After that, the county must pay for costs associated with future elections, she said.

Kesecker is gathering all the possible costs savings for the Friday meeting.

If the paper ballots are used, it is mandated by law, she said, to have 100 percent paper ballots for about the 10,000 registered voters in Morgan County, plus 5 percent extra ballots and another 10 percent for absentee ballots. The cost is about 76 cents a ballot, she said. At about 13,350 ballots, the cost is more than $10,000 each for the primary and general elections.

If Morgan County goes to 100 percent touch-screen voting, only paper ballots for absentee voting and samples would have to be purchased at about $1,400 for each election, Kesecker said.

"The biggest cost saving is the ballots," she said.

It will cost about $170 per precinct to load the ballots on the touch-screen machines, and a support team to test the machines might cost about $1,800 for each of the primary and general elections, she said.

There are five backup systems to tally the votes for the touch-screen voting machines. There is a paper trail, three computer chips in each machine that the results are stored on, and the PEB (personalized electronic ballot) also stores the information, Kesecker said.

"The PEBs go to the courthouse and the results are tallied from each machine, and those results are faxed to Charleston," Kesecker said.

There is a touch-screen voting machine in the Morgan County Courthouse lobby, and a staff person can show people how to use it, she said. It is available through April 18. Early voting for the May primary is from April 19 to May 6, and the touch-screen voting machine will be used for early voting, she said.

"Anyone who is visually impaired is welcome to come in and learn about the machine to make you more comfortable on Election Day, because the audio version takes a little longer," Kesecker said.

Commissioner Tommy Swaim said the commissioners are leaning toward going all touch screen because, "we can get 24 machines free and the fact that we can have a savings on the ballots, plus the simplicity of the counting by going all-touch screen."

"If there was not a paper trail with these machines, I would not be in favor of it," he said.




Public hearing



What: Public hearing on whether Morgan County should go to touch-screen voting exclusively.

When: Friday, 1:30 p.m.

Where: Morgan County Commission office on Fairfax Street in Berkeley Springs, W.Va.

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