Saturday, April 09, 2005

ES&S Employee: Touchscreens Easily Manipulated

Published on Friday, June 25, 2004 7:51 PM CDT

Election commission hears last pitch on vote machines
By Richard Duke

Courier Staff

The Saline County Election Commission, faced with having to revamp the county voting system by 2005, listened to the final presentation by independent companies about new and technologically advanced voting machines.

Representatives from Election Systems & Software spoke to officials Thursday morning, highlighting a feature that will assist the visually impaired with marking their ballots. Each county will have to provide assistance of this kind in the future.

The demonstration featured a terminal with a touch screen pad and an audible ballot that can be heard through headphones. The process marks the ballot, but it does not count it. The ballot can then be taken to a ballot box.

Mike Devereaux, who gave the presentation, said that touch screens, which many once thought would be the wave of the future, will never replace a paper ballot. The technology of touch screens, however, can greatly help those needing assistance in marking their ballot.

"The problem with touch screens as vote counters is that they can be easily manipulated," Devereaux said. "If someone were to go to a polling place that had a large turnout for John Kerry, that person could vote for John Kerry falsely, and when they got their receipt for John Kerry, they could report to an official that their vote was counted wrong. The entire machine would then have to be shut down with all of those votes still inside."

Devereaux believes that a paper audit is still what is desired by the public, especially after the presidential election in November 2000. Punch cards, however, must be discontinued, according to federal law.

In addition to the Voter Assist Terminal, ES&S displayed ballot counters, which combined the ease of electronic counting with the need of a paper audit. The counters can take any paper ballot and count each one, storing them within the machine. The information is then kept on a disk, which can be transferred to a central location. The process can be much quicker than hand counting, and if a problem occurs concerning fraud or human error, the paper ballots are still inside, ready to be counted.

The election commission has now seen a number of presentations from different companies, and it will make its decision soon. Saline County Clerk Freddy Burton said that, although changes in voting procedures must be made by December 2005, he would like to see Saline County have everything in place before then.

"We don't have to be ready for the general election in November, but we will make a decision about which is the best option for us and get everything in place as soon as possible," he said.

Saline County Clerk Freddy Burton and Election Systems & Software representative Mike Devereaux discuss the options available for polling places in the upcoming elections. (Courier photo by Richard Duke)

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