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Published: 10/5/2005

Wood County: Seniors get first crack at touch-screen voting

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

BOWLING GREEN - Elections officials know that senior citizens are some of the most loyal voters in the country, so they want to make sure they're comfortable using the new touch-screen voting machines that will make their debut Nov. 8 in Wood County.

Last week, elections officials took the machines to senior centers in Bowling Green, North Baltimore, Perrysburg, Rossford, and Walbridge.

"A lot of them come in and they aren't sure. Some are scared," said Terry Burton, director of the county elections board. "We didn't feel anyone left not comfortable with what they were doing."

Carol Haley stopped by the senior center in Bowling Green with her husband, Dick, to give the machines a try. She found the touch-screen system self-explanatory.

"I think it's pretty simple," Mrs. Haley said. "We liked the old way, but if they want to change it, these are fine."

Local elections officials didn't actually want to replace the punch-card voting machines Wood County had used for decades, but all counties were required by federal law to go to either touch-screen or optical-scan systems by 2006. The government provided $1.3 million to Wood County to buy 487 touch-screen machines.

Mrs. Haley said one doesn't need computer skills to use the devices.

"All you have to do is pay attention and do what you're told," she said.

After casting a sample ballot by touch-screen, Barbara Bruce, 75, of Bowling Green said she didn't think voters could make mistakes.

"It's a very nice idea, very simple," she said. "It was very well explained."

Deborah Hazard, deputy director of the elections board, said voters still will sign a poll book as they have in the past; but instead of being given a paper ballot, they will receive what looks like a credit card that has been programmed with their precinct number.

The voter inserts the card into the voting machine, and the ballot appears on the screen. Voters then touch the box next to the name or response they wish to vote for and touch the box again if they want to rescind that vote and change it.

Before leaving the voting booth, voters will be able to double-check how they voted on both the screen and a paper receipt that prints next to the screen. If it's correct, they'll touch "cast ballot." If it's not, they'll press "reject ballot" and start over.

Headphones also are available to make it easier for visually impaired voters to cast ballots.

"I like it," said William Hungling of Bowling Green. "But I don't think it's going to save any time."

Ms. Hazard agreed with that assessment.

Mr. Burton said elections officials will continue to take the machines out to Wood County communities for demonstrations before training poll workers later this month.

A touch-screen voting machine also is set up inside the elections office in the Wood County office complex next to the courthouse. It is available for the public to try anytime during business hours, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Fulton and Lucas counties also have been introducing the touch-screen machines to voters. Officials in both counties said they are taking requests from organizations that would like to have demonstrations.

"The word we want to get out is that if you call us, we will come," said Jill Kelly, director of the Lucas County elections board.

Contact Jennifer Feehan

at jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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