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Orange County

New Vote Machines Get a Dry (Ice) Run

At the Pond tonight, fans can use the electronic systems to select hockey players.

October 24, 2003|Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writer

Hockey fans will be among the first to try Orange County's new electronic voting machines by casting ballots for their favorite player at tonight's Mighty Ducks game.

The voting will take place before the Ducks face the Buffalo Sabres at the Arrowhead Pond.

The demonstration is part of a three-day effort by Orange County to familiarize residents with the $26.1-million voting system, which will be used in the March primary. This weekend the machines will be displayed at the Gigante store and 99 Ranch Market, both on Euclid Street in Anaheim.

Orange County bought 9,000 electronic voting tablets, called eSlates, last spring from Texas-based Hart InterCivic Inc. Choices are selected by turning a dial to highlight a candidate's name, then pushing the "enter" button.

The machines weren't used in the Oct. 7 recall because election officials felt it would be too confusing for voters and precinct workers, who hadn't yet been trained to use them.

However, electronic voting systems must be in place by the 2004 primary under legislation signed in 2000 by President Bush. His election was marred by thousands of disqualified ballots in Florida cast using outdated punch-card technology.

Los Angeles County chose a different system using touch-screen technology. Voters there were allowed to cast ballots early in the Oct. 7 election at several locations.

Registrar officials plan to train as many as 7,000 volunteers to prepare for March. The system was paid for by a $3.9-billion grant to upgrade voting systems nationally authorized through the Help America Vote Act.

In March, Orange County hopes to take advantage of the machines by offering early voting at selected city halls. The system produces ballots on the screen in any one of five languages that correspond to the voter's precinct.

"You could live in San Clemente and vote at [City Hall] in Cypress," interim Registrar of Voters Steve Rodermund said.

The eSlate machines are about the size of a legal pad and weigh 5.2 pounds. Each has its own collapsible stand and fabric privacy shield. The ballot is displayed on a screen, which voters access by entering a randomly generated four-digit code given to them by precinct workers.

When the voter is finished, the machine provides an overview screen that shows all the cast votes and any skipped races. Voters can go back and change a vote before pushing a red "cast ballot" button. A waving U.S. flag is the sign the voter is finished.

The machines can be used with headsets for the visually impaired or adapters for those unable to use their hands. About 1,700 of the 9,000 units will be available for disabled voters.

Orange County will be the second-largest location to use the eSlate tablets. They also are used in Harris County, Texas, which includes Houston.

Starting Nov. 1, information about the machines will be posted on a registrar Web site at www.OCVOTE.org. Tutorials also will be available by calling (888) OC-VOTES.

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