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Franklin County tests voting machines

May 13, 2006|BY DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA.

Voters going to the polls for Tuesday's primary will fill out their paper ballots the same way they have for the last 18 years, but the way the votes are tabulated will be different, and election officials are expressing confidence in the new equipment.

"There was nothing wrong with the equipment we had. In fact, it functioned well for many years," County Commissioner G. Warren Elliott said Friday.

The reason the county purchased precinct counters and handicapped-accessible voting machines for all 74 precincts was to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA).

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The 148 machines cost $861,572, although $792,000 of that was funded through federal grants distributed to the county through the state, Elliott said.

During Friday's public test, election officials fed test ballots into the Election Systems & Software precinct counter upside down and backwards, and it continued to record votes accurately. The counter also will notify voters if they filled in ovals for too many candidates in a race, or put in a blank ballot. In either case, the voter can direct the machine to accept or return the ballot to them.

"It will give the voter the opportunity to correct the error," Elliott said.

"Really, there's nothing you can do wrong as far as feeding them in," Commissioner Bob Thomas said.

The county also purchased iVotronic voting machines that can be used by the visually and hearing-impaired, though "we envision that a very small percentage of voters will use them," County Administrator John Hart said.

The information from the precinct counters is recorded on cards that will be inserted into a computer at the county's Administrative Annex after the polls close, Deputy Chief Clerk Jean Byers said. The cards are coded for specific precincts, she said.

No longer will individual ballots be counted by an optical scanner at the courthouse, that task having been done at the precincts, Byers said. That also should be a timesaver once ballot boxes arrive at the annex and the cards are downloaded into the computer.

Instead of poll workers hand-sorting ballots with write-ins after the polls close, the counter separates them from the other ballots, saving them one labor-intensive and time-consuming task, Byers said.

Byers said there have been 10 training sessions for 230 poll workers, one or more from each precinct. Every machine has been tested for function and accuracy, and there will be roving troubleshooters available on Election Day if problems arise.

Backup precinct counters also will be standing by at the annex if any machines break down at the precincts, she said.

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