Thursday, January 31, 2008

Fayette: Demonstration Session eScan Paper Ballot Voting

Fayette commissioners hosted their own voting machine vendor fair in hopes of moving quickly on a plan to acquire additional electronic machines for the Primary 2008 Election to take place April 22 in Pennsylvania.

The county's last cycle of elections met with long lines, hour-plus waits, with the reported result in several precincts of voters actually leaving the polling place before voting. The 2007 municipal races included seating a new Administration of the board of county commissioners.

Incumbents Republican Angela Zimmerlink and Democrat Vincent Vicites were joined by Vincent Zapotosky, a Democrat, after November elections.

Complaints about the backups in the precincts arose last Spring. Much of the criticism centered on the exclusive use of the direct recording electronic voting machines, eSlates, which may have hindered voters unfamiliar with technology advances.

Commissioners were encouraged by local concerned citizens to adopt the paper ballot with scanners, as a choice for voters at the polling place, in conjunction with the accessible direct recording electronic eSlates.

Local talk radio programming featured a litany of complaints over the couple of months spanning the municipal primary election and the general election.

Several callers to WMBS 590, including ours, urged the new administration of commissioners to consider implementing the eScans, Hart InterCivic's paper ballot based voting system.

During a regular board meeting held last week, a measure on the agenda to acquire additional eSlates failed to garner a second vote.

On the motion of Commissioner Vincent Vicites, and seconded by Chairman Vincent Zapotosky, with Commissioner Zimmerlink voting no, the board opted instead to work on formulation of a plan which would include the eScans. Funding concerns were discussed, as were potential for delivery in time for the Primary Election.

In subsequent news articles, reports reflect Zimmerlink's nay vote doesn't preclude her looking into alternate voting systems.

At the Thursday demonstration session, Adrian Gonzales, of Hart Intercivic, reviewed the eScan - with officials, election employees, the county's election technicians, and director.

The demonstration included attempting to mark more choices than were permitted to see what would happen. A message on the unit's screen notified the user of an over-vote.

Gonzales explained the county could choose to set the system to reject the over-votes, and reject a completely blank ballot, and the polling place official would have to be notified by the voter when encountering those rejections.

The system could be set to likewise allow an under-voted ballot which wasn't completely blank. The system could permit for all of those instances, but the voter would still be notified by the screen's message of an over-vote or improperly marked ballot. A help button is also available for the voter to call a pollworker.

Both commissioners noted including the paper ballot system would be a good move for the county for a variety of reasons. Among reasons is the future status of the direct recording without paper.

State representative Timothy Mahoney was present. He may be contacted in the future concerning state measures which could be taken to ensure the direct recording electronic machines used in many counties across the state produce a "voter verified paper audit trail."

The eScans would be placed at each polling precinct along with the accessible direct recording eSlates.

Commissioner Vicites said the use of the eScans could solve the problems experienced in the last elections, and improve the process for the voters. He said he's had input from senior citizens and all age groups have had various comments. Regarding accessibility of the eSlates and use of a paper ballot with scanner, Vicites said, "the dual system satisfies both aspects of the voting process."

Vicites said the county had a $170,000 base from which to work, but some over $1 million had already been used from Help America Vote Act funding for the current voting system. $500,000 from a 2006 earmark had not been applied to the county voting system when the HAVA funding came through. That money is no longer available, Vicites said.

"What value can you put on the voting process," Vicites said.

Vicites indicated a reserve fund could be an option.

Vincent Zapotosky enlisted Gonzales to review the protections in the system to aide the voter to cast the ballot as the voter wanted.

He said there's the simplicity of the paper ballot and the technology with the features notifying of the over-votes, or if the voter wants to change an under-voted ballot.

Zapotosky said the system allows a tangible piece of paper to be voted on and the votes recorded on it.

He expressed Pennsylvania's role in the Presidential Primary could be crucial and a turning point for candidates in that process, and hoped for an adequate way with this system to encourage voter participation.

Director Laurie Lint noted the absentee ballots have to be handled separately per Pennsylvania election law and there would also be a separate report for write-ins.

At least 103 of the units will be placed in the local precincts.

Commissioners will advertise a special meeting to be held next Wednesday to consider acquisition of the paper ballot scanners, and financing details.

Gonzales assured the group if official action were taken at that time, the array of eScans would be delivered in time for the April 22 Primary Election.

The public will have opportunity to view the eScans at the to-be-scheduled meeting, and during regular operating hours of the Election Bureau located in Uniontown at the Public Service Building, 22 East Main Street. (Across from the State Theatre)

Previous Posts

Monday, January 28, 2008
County Faces Costs Scanner Paper Ballots Voting System

Friday, January 25, 2008
VotePA Weighs in on Talk program paper ballots

Thursday, January 24, 2008
Fayette to add precinct paper ballot optical scans

Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Fayette Voting System

Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Citizen Power Needed PA Counties Demand Paper Ballot Optical Scan

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