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Touch-Screen Voting Popular

Convenience, curiosity prompt many to cast their ballots early on electronic machines. They say the process is quick -- and easy.

September 30, 2003|Richard Marosi | Times Staff Writer

The future in voting is here, and the reviews seem unanimous.

"That was cool. It was so easy to be patriotic," Ellen Clayborne said after casting her vote on a touch-screen computer at the Central Library in downtown Los Angeles.

Clayborne is among thousands of registered voters who have used electronic voting machines in the days leading up to the special election next Tuesday.

The Los Angeles County registrar-recorder's office, as part of its "Touch the future with touch-screen" program, is making the machines available for voters until Friday.

Los Angeles County residents can vote at any of 12 touch-screen polling sites. For polling hours and locations, go to www.lavote.net. Ballots are available in seven languages.

Convenience and curiosity have drawn hundreds to the Central Library, where everyone from homeless people to office workers used the computers for the first time. By 2005, the machines will be standard in all county elections.

Most people interviewed on Monday marveled at the ease and quickness of the process.

Voters are given a "vote-access" card by poll worker, which they slide into the computer. That prompts a series of screens that list the ballot questions. Voters can make corrections by retouching the screen. The final "summary" screen gives voters one last chance to reconsider their votes. Many people completed their vote within one minute, finishing up faster than the time it takes to take money out of an automated teller machine.

Douglas Moore, a webmaster who came downtown from Tujunga to try the technology, said it compared favorably with other software.

"It was very natural the way they have it set up," he said. "The only difference is you're touching instead of clicking."

Said Laura Lull, 33, of Hermosa Beach, "It's nice to be able to vote using the technology we use every day."

Registrar-Recorder Conny B. McCormack said the program is part of the county's effort to familiarize voters and workers with the computers before they replace punch-card machines for good.

Critics, including some political scientists and technology security experts, have said the system is unreliable and prone to malfunctions. But McCormack said the computers, which already have been used in several county elections since 2000, have not had serious problems. Surveys show that more than 95% of users like the new voting system, she said.

McCormack said numerous safeguards would prevent faulty or incomplete vote counts. She said each computer has a battery in case of power outages. And hackers cannot tamper with the votes, she said, because each computer is a "stand-alone" that is not part of a network or connected to the Internet. "Votes are not going into cyberspace," she said. "There is no possibility of viruses getting in there, or a virus erasing vote totals."

And as an extra safeguard, the machines keep a tally on paper, just in case.

While most people looked forward to chad-free ballots, some seemed a little unsure about the new technology.

To Vargus Mason, a 30-year-old comedian, it all seemed too easy. "That's it, I voted right?" he asked poll workers after voting. "It will count, right?"

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