US readies e-voting systems as election approaches

Many US states switch to paper ballots in continuing migration from touch-screen e-voting machines

As the election approaches, here's an update on several states and cities where voting problems have recently been addressed:

Denver returns to local voting precincts

Two years ago, Denver faced massive problems on Election Day after several key changes were made in how voters cast their ballots.

A countywide electronic poll book containing voter registration information didn't work as designed and was plagued with slow network performance, leading to long lines of frustrated voters. The city and county also moved away from local voting precincts to a model of fewer regional voting centers, which added to the length of the lines. Even the former Denver Election Commission was disbanded and replaced with elected officials in response to the problems of 2006. All voters cast ballots by mail in the 2007 elections while officials worked to create a new system for voting there.

Those issues are behind Denver now, said Alton Dillard, a spokesman for the new Elections Division in the Office of the Clerk and Recorder Stephanie O'Malley. Next month, voters will again cast ballots in 185 neighborhood polling places, instead of the 55 regional vote centers used in 2006.

Denver has also moved from touch-screen machines to optically scanned paper ballots, Dillard said, although one touch-screen machine remains in each polling place to provide access for disabled voters under federal law. The paper ballots will be centrally counted using high-speed model 400C scanners from Sequoia Voting Systems.

A test run was successfully performed with the new system during this year's primary election, Dillard said. Denver expects about 250,000 voters to go to the polls Nov. 4, out of a registered pool of about 390,000 voters.

Ballots cast earlier and sent by mail will be counted ahead of time so they won't have to be tallied on election night, which should speed up the process, Dillard said. "We believe we will have the results by early Wednesday morning," he said. "Our main concern is accuracy over speed and making sure that no one gets disenfranchised in the process."

New York sticks with old-style levers

New York state voters will use old-fashioned mechanical-lever voting machines for this election because of disputes over certification and who would pay for electronic voting equipment. However, the issues are expected to be resolved by September 2009.

"We're in the process of moving to paper, but not by this election," said Robert Brehm, deputy director of public information for the New York State Board of Elections. Two e-voting equipment vendors have submitted optical-scan systems for certification, he said, and testing and adjustment procedures are continuing.

"We are working to have them in place in time for next September," Brehm said. For the November 4 election, every New York polling place will have lever machines and modern ballot-marking devices for disabled voters to meet federal laws, he said. The state has just under 6,100 polling places and about 11.5 million registered voters.

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Todd R. Weiss

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