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Published: Tuesday, 8/12/2003

No more hanging chads

THE state of Michigan is moving to a standard voting system and - wonder of wonders - is doing it with much less political fuss than Ohio.

While the Buckeye State's shift to all-electronic voting equipment occasioned a nasty feud among the Republican majority in Columbus, the change is proceeding more smoothly Up North.

In 2002, the Michigan legislature decreed that voting should be done by a uniform method instead of the five types in use. Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land now has decided that the standard will be optically scanned paper ballots.

About two-thirds of Michigan's 5,305 voting precincts already use the optical scan method, so the change will not be terribly difficult or expensive. Other precincts use a mixture of paper ballots, lever machines, punch cards, and direct-recording electronic devices.

The change will finally unify what has been a jumble of methods. Unlike Ohio, where a board of elections in each county administers elections, voting in Michigan is overseen by county, city, and township clerks.

As a result, several different voting methods frequently are in use within a county. All voting jurisdictions in Monroe County use optical scan, but in Lenawee County, 15 of 26 jurisdictions have lever machines, 10 use optical scan, and one uses electronic devices.

In making her choice, Ms. Land relied on recommendations of a statewide advisory panel, and the reasons for selecting optical scan seem carefully considered.

Notably, only one type of equipment is needed for tallying both precinct votes and absentee ballots, cutting costs and voter confusion, and simplifying the training of poll workers and the education of voters.

Funding for the changeover will come via the federal Help America Vote Act, adopted by Congress in the wake of the 2000 election debacle in Florida. Michigan is eligible for about $80 million over three years.

That infamous election, which left the choice of a president in doubt for more than a month and acquainted every American with the term “hanging chads,” reminded Americans not to take for granted how they vote or how their vote is tallied.

Most of Michigan's precincts are to be voting uniformly by 2004, although a few may not be switched until 2006.

Compared with the political theatrics we're witnessing in Ohio, it's a welcome change.



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