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Early voting gets off to solid start in Eastern Panhandle

April 20, 2006|by ROBERT SNYDER and DAVE McMILIION

The loss of the county's new touch-screen voting machines didn't deter 26 voters from casting ballots during the first day of early voting in Berkeley County, W.Va.

"It's not really bad for an off-year first day," Berkeley County voter registration supervisor Bonnie Woodfall said of the first day's vote total.

Last week, the Secretary of State announced that the touch-screen voting machines would be unavailable for early voting because of a delay by the elections' vendor in getting the machines' ballot cassettes programmed.

The delay means voters who opt to cast a ballot during the early voting period that began Wednesday and runs until May 6 will have to use the optically scanned paper balloting system.

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Woodfall said voters who arrived to cast their ballots were not concerned by the delay in getting the new machines online, which could happen before the end of early voting.

"It's a day-by-day thing and we're waiting," she said.

The touch-screen machines were funded with $19 million the state received from the federal government as part of the new Help America Vote law passed in 2002 in the wake of the 2000 elections. By the primary election, Berkeley County will have one touch-screen machine in each of the county's 65 precincts, Woodfall said.

The state has contracted with Nebraska-based Election Systems and Software to provide the touch-screen machines to each of West Virginia's 55 counties that requested them.

Woodfall said last week the delay will not prevent the machines from being fully tested and certified before they are put into use, either once early voting starts next week or in time for the county's primary election May 9.

Early voting will run daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Berkeley County Courthouse. The period includes two Saturday voting opportunities - April 29 and May 6 - Woodfall said.

About 30 voters showed up Wednesday at the Jefferson County Courthouse to take advantage of the first day of early voting, and operations went smoothly with a new voting system, Jefferson County Clerk Jennifer Maghan said.

In this year's elections, voters will be able to use a new paper ballot system or a touch-screen voting device, although the touch-screen method was not available Wednesday in Jefferson County, Maghan said.

Maghan said she is waiting for "software definitions" needed to run the touch-screen machines. The software will come from a vendor that the state is using, and the county has no control over the situation, Maghan said.

The touch-screen machines will be available for the May 9 primary election, Maghan said.

With the new paper ballot system, voters fill in ovals beside a candidate's name, Maghan said.

The ballots will be counted by a new tabulating machine on the night of the primary election, Maghan said.

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