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O.C. Supervisors to Weigh Replacing Voting System

January 27, 2003|Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writer

The Orange County Board of Supervisors will decide Tuesday whether to begin negotiations to buy a $25-million computerized voting system to replace aging punch-card machines that have caused numerous election-night snafus in recent years.

The registrar of voters will present the board with three options but have recommended the Maximus/Hart InterCivic system rather than a popular touch-screen type. The Maximus/Hart machine uses a wheel that allows voters to highlight selected candidates. The system also will allow blind or non-English speakers to vote without help.

Supervisors have been supportive of replacing existing voting machines, which have been the target of growing criticism. Most recently, the system failed to tally nearly 8,000 absentee ballots in the November election.

County voters now punch their choices on cards that are hand-fed into machines -- some of which are 30 years old -- that record and tally votes. Because people handle the cards, human error is possible. County officials hope to eliminate that chance of error with a computerized system.

The system favored by the registrar allows voters to turn a dial to highlight their selections on a screen. Ballots will be available in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese. Visually impaired voters will be able to switch to a larger type; the blind can use an audio ballot to cast their votes.

The system -- already used in parts of Texas, Virginia and Colorado -- is estimated to cost about $25 million. The county expects to receive $16.8 million in state funds and $8.2 million in federal money to pay for it.

If the five-member board approves the registrar's request and if negotiations are successful, the supervisors will be asked in late February or early March to approve a contract with Maximus/Hart InterCivic.

The county hopes to put 9,000 machines in 1,700 polling places by the March 2004 primary. Counties across the nation have been turning to electronic voting machines since the presidential ballot controversy in Florida two years ago. By 2008, analysts expect 75% of the nation's counties to have some form of electronic voting.

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