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Berkeley Co. officials vote for touch-screen machines

July 14, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - When Berkeley County residents go to the polls to vote in 2008, there is a real possibility they won't have a ballot box to contend with and fewer poll workers will be needed to tally the results at the end of the night.

Acting on information compiled by Berkeley County Clerk John W. Small Jr. and Voters Registration supervisor Bonnie Woodfall, county commissioners Thursday decided to apply for state money to purchase 155 Ivotronic "touch screen" voting machines, which Small and Woodfall said will virtually eliminate the need for paper ballots on Election Day. The purchase would bring the total number of Ivotronic machines to 220.

At a cost of $3,100 per machine, Small said in a letter to Commission President Howard L. Strauss that each of the county's 65 precincts could be outfitted with at least two machines for $403,000. Instead, the Commission opted to go one step further and apply for $480,500 to buy additional machines for more populated precincts in an effort to use only one voting system on election days in 2008. The machines would be purchased with money from a revolving, no-interest loan program facilitated by West Virginia Secretary of State Betty Ireland's office.

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For the general election in November and with any special votes to be staged in 2007, voters again will have the option to fill in ovals on a paper ballot that is optically scanned. A software glitch on primary election night caused a delay in optical scanning, but the Ivotronic and early votes were tallied within an hour, officials said.

The only problem with the touch-screen machines at poll locations in May happened when paper rolls used to record tallies inside the machine became dislodged while being transported.

"Even with the older people (the Ivotronic machines) were fine," Woodfall said Thursday.

If the loan for the machines is approved by state officials, the county still will have to tally paper ballots for absentee voters, Woodfall said.

Regardless, Woodfall and Small believe the election night count will be made "a lot less complicated" with one system. The absentee votes would be entered in the Ivotronic machines on election day by teams of registered poll workers from the Democrat and Republican parties, Small said.

"The process of combining (the) two types of voting systems caused us some problems in the primary election and overall takes more time," Small said in his letter to Strauss.

In the primary election, Commission President Howard L. Strauss said he believed most people in his precinct used the Ivotronic machines.

"If you 'over voted' (or selected more than the maximum number of candidates as instructed on the ballot), it told you that," Strauss said.

Woodfall does not know when state officials will make a decision on the loan application, but if approved, county leaders would have five years to pay off the debt.

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