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County to Upgrade Voting Machines

Officials opt to improve InkaVote, rather than buying an electronic system, until standards improve.

April 19, 2006|Noam N. Levey | Times Staff Writer

With much of the country still struggling with new electronic voting systems, Los Angeles County has once again stuck with a go-slow approach.

County supervisors Tuesday voted to spend as much as $45 million in state and federal dollars to upgrade the county's current InkaVote balloting system to comply with new federal voting guidelines, rather than purchase a substantially more expensive electronic system.

"It's the lowest risk," said Conny McCormack, the county registrar and the architect of the conservative strategy for upgrading its voting systems.

McCormack has advised the county to delay buying an expensive new electronic system, which would probably cost more than $100 million, until better systems and standards have been developed.

That approach has saved Los Angeles County many of the headaches experienced by other counties and some states that rushed to buy electronic systems after the Florida ballot-counting fiasco following the 2000 presidential election.

Some of those systems proved unreliable or didn't meet the stringent standards being adopted nationwide.

Los Angeles County has stuck with a lower-tech InkaVote system, which it deployed in 2003. That optical scan system requires voters to mark their ballots with a pen-like device, rather than using a touch-screen, as do many of the newer systems.

The upgrade approved Tuesday will allow disabled voters to use the InkaVote system, as required under new federal standards.

It also will alert voters when they have marked more than one candidate, which normally would disqualify the ballot, McCormack said.

She added that she did not expect the upgrade -- to be performed by Nebraska-based Election Systems and Software -- to cost more than $25 million.

That would allow the county to save the bulk of the promised federal funding to purchase an electronic system in the future. McCormack said that could be at least five years away.

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