buttons vie for punch-card vote
When Yellow Springs
voters go to the polls on May 6 for a special election on natural gas
aggregation, they will see something new: an electronic voting machine,
which the Greene County Board of Elections will be testing.
So while five other elections in the county will be decided through the
current system that uses punch-card ballots, Yellow Springs residents
will get to try an electronic push-button system. No paper ballots or
possible hanging chads, just a few microchips to record the votes.
A 2002 federal law, the Help America Vote Act, requires state governments
to replace punch-card voting systems. Ohio hopes to implement a new system
by the presidential election in 2004.
While the Ohio government is still deciding what systems the states
88 counties may use, the Greene County Board of Elections is using next
months election to test-drive one system, MicroVote Infinity, manufactured
by MicroVote Corporation in Indianapolis.
Carole Garman, the director of the local Board of Elections, said that
the board chose to try the system in Yellow Springs because the ballot
issue here is not controversial, the village has just four precincts and
its polling places the Bryan Community Center and the First Presbyterian
Church are close together.
We thought it would be a good chance to see how the poll workers
and the public both feel about this system, she said in an interview
at the board office last Friday.
The board also thought that local residents would be open to trying something
new, Garman said. Yellow Springs is a good test market for us,
Five other issues will be decided on May 6, two deregulation issues in
Bellbrook, a street and highway levy and a school levy in Beavercreek
and a school bond issue in Sugarcreek. All five will use the punch-card
ballots normally used by the Greene County board.
In Yellow Springs, voters will vote on Issue 4, which would give the Village
the authority to negotiate natural gas prices on behalf of local customers,
as part of the states natural gas deregulation program. If the issue
is approved, the Village will serve as a governmental aggregator and negotiate
rates with outside suppliers, and will create an opt-out aggregation
program, so all local residents would automatically be enrolled in the
Villages buying group.
Residents, however, will have the option to opt out of the Villages
program. Those residents will then be able to choose their own natural
gas supplier. Anyone enrolled in the Villages buying group will
be allowed to drop out every two years without paying a fee.
Even if the Village gets into the natural gas business, it will not have
to provide infrastructure or billing services. Vectren will continue to
maintain the natural gas lines in town and bill Yellow Springs residents
for their natural gas.
The Village would work with AMPO, Inc., an affiliate of American Municipal
Power of Ohio, the Villages wholesale electricity supplier, to negotiate
supply contracts. Village and AMPO officials have said that the Village
would likely be able to negotiate a better rate for natural gas than individual
The electronic system that the county will use on May 6 is similar to
the punch-card system, except it does not involve paper ballots. After
voters sign in at the polls, a poll worker will accompany each voter to
a booth and turn on the unit for the voter, and then walk away. Voters
will not be given cards on which to cast a vote.
Once the machine is turned on, voters will see an instruction screen,
the first of three screens. The second screen contains the actual ballot
Like punch-card ballots, the electronic unit will display the ballot language,
giving voters a chance to vote yes or no on the issue. But instead of
punching a card with a pin, voters will push a button to cast a vote.
The letter X will appear next to each vote on the screen.
After voters mark their choice, the machine will display a third screen
that shows how each voter intends to vote. (The machine will also alert
a voter if he does not cast a vote.) Voters then officially cast their
votes by hitting a red button on the right side of the machine.
The machines will internally record the votes. After the polls close,
the machines will print out the votes, giving the Board of Elections a
paper trail of the results. The votes also will be electronically recorded
on a card about the size of a hotel key. The cards, paper results and
machines will be delivered to the board office, where election officials
will officially tally the results.
Dwayne A. Rapp, vice president of TRIAD Governmental Systems Inc., the
Xenia business that oversees Greene Countys voter registration and
tabulating systems, said that the push-button system does not represent
a flamboyant change in the way people vote. Voting should
be as simple as it was in previous elections, he said.
TRIAD personnel and Board of Elections officials will be in Yellow Springs
on Election Day to monitor how the voting system works. Poll managers
and poll workers will receive training before the election, Garman said.
Those voting absentee will also get to participate in the test run. The
board has several electronic machines set up in its office for people
who vote in person before May 6. Those who request ballots by mail will
receive scan-tron-like ballots, similar to a lottery form, on which they
will fill in their vote on oval bubbles.
Beverly Hogue, a Board of Elections official who supervises absentee voting,
said last week that three people, including herself, have voted on the
machines, as absentee voters. The other two voters thought the system
was easy to manage, Hogue said.
In February, the Madison County Board of Elections used MicroVote Infinity
machines in a special election for a school levy for the Madison Plains
Local School District. Sally Asper, the director of the Madison Board
of Elections, said that the voting system was absolutely wonderful
and that the election went very well. Asper said that the
system reduced the time it took citizens to vote and that tallying the
results of the election was simple and less time-consuming
than counting ballots.
Rapp, whose father in 1968 started the family-run business, which today
manages 52 county ballot-counting or voter registration systems, said
that a number of different electronic voting systems are available, but
he likes the Infinity push-button system because its simple to use
and the buttons allow voters to physically feel like theyre casting
Garman and Rapp said that the Infinity models cost about $2,500 to $3,000
a unit. They estimated it could cost an estimated $2 million to upgrade
the entire county. The Board of Elections would need to purchase a minimum
of 700 units. The federal government is supposed to fund the effort to
upgrade the nations voting systems.
Once implemented, Garman and Rapp said, the electronic system would save
the Board of Elections money, since the board would not have to purchase
paper ballots. Plus, absentee ballots can be printed on-demand, cutting
down on additional paper.
For more information on next months election and the push-button
voting machine, call the Greene County Board of Elections, 562-7470.