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Ohio County eyes replacing punch-card system with TS

Voting change in 2004 studied

Lawrence eyes replacement of old punch-card ballot system

By DAVID E. MALLOY - The Herald-Dispatch

IRONTON -- Lawrence County voters could join voters in Boyd County, Ky. and Cabell County, W.Va. in using touch-screen voting machines by the 2004 election, officials said Wednesday.

Lawrence County has used a punch-card voting system since 1978. That was the same system in place in Florida that caused numerous problems during the 2000 presidential election.

There currently is federal money that will pay up to 95 percent of the cost of buying new voting machines, said Mary "Sis" Wipert, director of the Lawrence County Board of Elections. The federal Election Reform Bill provides states like Ohio the chance to join the electronic voting age as long as the new voting machines are in service prior to the 2004 presidential election.

It will cost between $750,000 and $1 million to buy the new voting machines, Wipert said. The machines cost about $4,000 each and the county, which has 38,000 registered voters and 84 precincts, would need about 200 machines, she said.

"Cabell County and the Kentucky counties have already made the switch," said Karen Matney-Simmons, a member of the Lawrence Countyís election board. "Change is hard, but you have to be able to trust the system."

"If we get the 95 percent money, what a deal," she said. "Itís a no-brainer. If we hold off, we could have to end up paying all the cost. The touch-screen system is the most up-to-date one out there right now."

County election officials have looked at several new voting systems in recent years. They got a first-hand look Wednesday at the latest touch-screen system being offered by Diebold Election Systems.

Bob Griffith, another election board member, likes the system the county currently has in place.

Dick Myers, another election board official, likes the new touch-screen system, calling it the voting machine of the future. "People are becoming more accustomed to computers," he said. "The county could borrow the money to pay for it if they need to."

Ohio currently is a hotbed of voting machines sales pitches since 67 of the 88 counties, including Lawrence and Scioto, use the punch-card system which could be eliminated in the next few years, officials said.

The federal government is putting several billion dollars into the purchase of new voting machines to avoid another election debacle like the one in Florida in the 2000 presidential election where the outcome was in doubt for several weeks.

Wipert said election officials are looking at the existing systems out there in order to be prepared if the county were to get money to buy new voting machines, she said.

The system also has a method to allow the blind to use it and vote without assistance. The law also could require counties to have at least one handicapped-accessible machine per precinct by 2004, officials said.

Lesley Koop Thompson
Customer Service Project Manager
Diebold Election Systems, Inc.
415-235-6553 (office cell)
512-413-7618 (cell)