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Published: Saturday, 4/27/2002

Touch-screen vote gets tryout

BY FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE POLITCAL WRITER
Mark Beckstrand, a vice president of Sequoia Voting Systems, Inc., demonstrates the new touch-screen voting system. Mark Beckstrand, a vice president of Sequoia Voting Systems, Inc., demonstrates the new touch-screen voting system.
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Lucas County voting technology is about to catch up with the technology used in Palm Beach County, Florida.

The “butterfly ballot” county, perhaps best known for the November, 2000, debacle that tied up the presidential election for five weeks before throwing the outcome to the U.S. Supreme Court, is now among the nation's elite, employing touch-screen voting technology.

In the Toledo City Council special election in District 4, voters will employ the same system made by the same company.

The machines are easy to use, secure, and foolproof, said Mark Beckstrand, a vice president of Sequoia Voting Systems, Inc., of Oakland, Calif., during a briefing yesterday at the Lucas County Board of Elections. The touch-screen machines are “fault-tolerant,” and “errors or corrections or changes of minds by the voters can be addressed simply and easily,” he said.

And they are chad-free.

But don't refer to the machines as “computers,” he said. They are different, especially in the way they save data, he said. “It's an electronic voting device,” Mr. Beckstrand said, adding that the “C” word scares older voters.

Instead of using a traditional hard drive, which has moving parts, Mr. Beckstrand said his firm uses “what is known as nonvolatile compact flash memory. If somebody pulls a plug or drops this [voting machine], unlike a laptop or personal com- puter], where you have a spinning hard drive, you're not going to ... lose data. Once that `cast vote' button is pushed, it is indelibly etched into flash memory.”

The District 4 special election will be in the same 59 precincts and 28 polling locations that will host the regular primary election at the same time. The voters will be asked to sign in twice, once for each election.

To cast their ballot in the primary, which includes races for governor, attorney general, state Senate, and more, voters will be told to use the traditional lever machines. To vote in the District 4 special election, they will use the touch-screen machines.

After voters sign in for the special election, they will be given a plastic card that includes a coded magnetic strip - like a hotel key card - that they will insert in a slot in the touch-screen machine.

The names of the five candidates running to fill the Toledo council seat - Michael Ashford, Perlean Griffin, Rick Van Landingham, Mansour Bey, and Dennis Lange - will pop up onto the screen.

Voters simply touch the name of the person for whom they want to vote. If they change their mind, they can tap on the screen again - their earlier selection will disappear, and they will be able to make a new selection. That done, voters will be asked again if they are prepared to make their vote official. Once that selection on the screen is chosen, the vote is transferred to the secure memory bank. The plastic key card then will be spit out of the voting machine, to be returned to the poll workers.

To protect against vote fraud, the cards are coded in such a way that they can't be used to vote more than once without being re-coded by a poll worker. If a voter tries to cast a second vote, the voting machine locks the card inside and will not activate a new voting screen until it is reset. Only poll workers will be able to remove the cards and reset the machines, Mr. Beckstrand said.

While every vote is recorded on an electronic log in case it needs to be checked later, Mr. Beckstrand said the votes are saved in a random fashion so as to prevent election workers from determining who voted for which candidate.

Poll workers will begin to be trained on the machines next week. Machines will be available for practice at local libraries and community centers next weekend, Mr. Beckstrand said.

Paula Ross, a member of the county board of elections, which invited the company to use the special election as an experiment, said she is optimistic the machines will provide a good test.

“I think our challenge is to make sure there is enough information provided to the voters in this district so that everyone who wants to take part in this special election feels comfortable using the machines,” Ms. Ross said.

“We are asking voters [in District 4] to take part in two elections, and we want to make that very, very easy and comfortable for them.”



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