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Voters Start Life Without 'Chad'

L.A. County elections officials hang out to mark last punch-card tally with a mock roast.

June 04, 2003|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

Chad couldn't hang on any longer. So Los Angeles County officials retired him Tuesday night as they counted, for the last time, punch-card type ballots cast in several local elections.

And the lighthearted retirement roast at the registrar-recorder's headquarters in Norwalk for the county's soon-to-be-replaced balloting system was naturally filled with "dimpled chad" and "hanging chad" punch lines.

Registrar-Recorder Conny McCormack, dressed in a costume resembling a punch-card ballot, characterized the farewell party as bittersweet.

"Well, at least you didn't come as a pregnant chad," joked partygoer Frank Martinez, executive officer of the Los Angeles city clerk's office, which uses county voting machines.

Vern Cowles, an elections tallying manager for the county, showed up as a punch-card voting machine. The real ones, he said, waving an oversized punch-card stylus, will go into storage, "just in case" the county needs them again someday.

A nostalgic crowd of more than 100 listened as punch-card elections were joked about with songs and jibes and toasted with fruit punch.

Chad's farewell was blamed on sloppy Florida voting practices. County officials say the 35-year-old punch-card system used here served local voters -- and candidates -- well over the years.

But after the Florida "hanging chad" debacle marred the 2000 presidential election, then-California Secretary of State Bill Jones in late 2001 set a deadline of July 2005 for the elimination of punch-card ballot systems.

A federal judge in Los Angeles, Stephen V. Wilson, followed it up five months later by ruling that punch-card ballots had to go by the 2004 presidential election.

The ruling affected nine counties, including Los Angeles, San Bernardino and San Diego, which have about 8 million registered voters.

Los Angeles County elections officials say they have never had any major perforation problems with their Votomatic-brand punch-card system.

Votomatic, with 312 numbered voting positions, was first bought in 1968. After each election, chad was cleaned out of each of the county's 37,000 punch devices and worn parts were replaced.

At the time, McCormack warned that Wilson's ruling could throw "our Los Angeles County election system into chaos" by preventing local officials from transitioning smoothly to electronic touch-screen voting.

Tuesday night, she predicted that the punch-card ballot's temporary replacement, a hand-marking system called InkaVote, will work fine in the next election. The change to ink marking will cost $4 million, an expenditure that county supervisors approved Tuesday.

But the county doesn't have the estimated $107 million that a switch to a multi-language, touch-screen balloting system will cost.

So will county officials be able to upgrade by the November 2005 election as they hope to do?

Chad might put it this way: Election workers will have to hang in there to find out.

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