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E-voting plan hits roadblock
September 22, 2006, 12:00 AM By Michelle Durand

Concern that voters and poll workers need more time to acclimate to electronic voting machines is crippling plans to widely use the systems in November, a stumbling block which will leave ballots uncounted until the wee hours of the following morning.

Chief Elections Officer Warren Slocum wants to use a phased-in approach to introduce the Hart Intercivic eSlate machines to San Mateo County rather than using three to six of the machines in the Nov. 7 general election. The plan will place one device at each precinct, leaving many voters to use paper ballots. The completed ballots will be brought back to the elections office for a central county process which, due to the size and projected turnout, could take until 4 a.m. to finish, according to Slocum’s estimates.

The lengthy count is contrary to past elections in San Mateo County which are often noted for their relative speed. Slocum, however, believes the trade off of integrity over speed is necessary to implement the electronic system in a more palatable way.

"The integrity of the vote and voter confidence are essential to the long-term acceptance of the county’s electronic voting equipment,” Slocum informed county officials earlier this week.

The revised plan gives precinct workers more time to familiarize themselves with the new system over time instead of managing a completely different process from beginning to end on Election Day.

On Aug. 15, the Board of Supervisors unanimously backed a contract for the new machines despite protests from some worried about privacy and security. Most of the system’s approximately $10 million cost is borne by federal and state grants but the county will spend approximately $1.3 million on its share.

Slocum unveiled a handful of the machines in the June gubernatorial primary and suggested the county replace its entire system with the equipment. The machines can be used by any voter because jelly buttons, headphones and sip-and-puff attachments make them handicapped accessible. The changes are required by the Help America Vote Act which mandates local jurisdictions replace antiquated machines while guaranteeing the privacy of disabled voters. It requires all counties have at least one voting device accessible to disabled voters in every precinct.

The machines may also save the county thousands of dollars by eliminating the need to print paper ballots outside individual demand, Slocum told the board before its vote.

Slocum did not return a call for comment about the new plan.

Michelle Durand can be reached by e-mail: michelle@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. What do you think of this story? Send a letter to the editor: letters@smdailyjournal.com.<

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