More accurate voting for 2004

By Gus Bode

a href=”https://www.dailyegyptian.com/contactus.html”bDE Staff Reporter/b/abrspan class=”realsmall”bDaily Egyptian/b/span

More accurate voting for 2004

Switch in voting systems hopes to make things easier for Jackson County

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Voting just got easier for registered voters in Jackson County.

The 2000 presidential election signaled the Federal Elections Committee to the fact that punch-card ballots cause inaccuracy.

Illinois will participate in a voluntary program to do away with punch-card ballots and instead use paper ballots similar to standardized tests in their size and format. The new ballot comes on a standard 8 1/2 by 11 page. A voter fills in ovals that define for whom they will vote. Upon completion, the ballot is then entered into an optical scanner, which is similar to a scantron machine used to score tests.

“I think it is a huge step forward, as far as the voting process goes,” said Larry Reinhardt, Jackson County Clerk and Recorder.

The optical scanner will not only tally the votes right there, but will also check for over votes. If a voter has an over vote, then the machine will kick the ballot back out so a person can discard it and fill out another ballot, to ensure the vote will count.

“Over votes has been a minimum in Jackson County, but it will still eliminate any possibility of those,” Reinhardt said.

Tuesday was the deadline for states to notify the federal government if they plan to participate in a voluntary program to do away with the punch-card ballot. Gov. Rod Blagojevich has sent a letter to the federal level, stating that Illinois will participate in the program.

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Dianne Feltf, director of voting systems and standards at the Illinois state board of elections, said that the idea of the federal legislation is to ensure to voters that everyone’s vote counts.

“If they have mistrust in the system then there is a problem and it needs to be corrected,” Feltf said.

Counties throughout Illinois are now waiting for the state’s legislature to pass the bill in both houses and receive the governor’s signature. Then the legislature will set up the bank account for the federal funds. Jackson County is expecting $256,000 from the federal government. The money allotted is based on the number of punch-card precincts each county had in the 2000 presidential election.

Jackson County is trying to purchase 55 optical scanner units, though they may have to combine one or two polling places to ensure the devices can all be paid for with federal funding.

“We usually hate to do that if we don’t have to, but this would be a good way to save money and make a more accessible polling place overall,” Reinhardt.

While Reinhardt speculates federal funding to be large enough to pay for an optical scanner in each polling place, he is not sure how much Jackson County will receive or how much the machines and their maintenance will cost.

Although some details are not in place, Reinhardt said that no new problems would stem from the new voting system. The system will allow ballots to be produced at the Jackson County courthouse for smaller elections, for precincts that run short and for absentees. Absentee ballots cost the county $3,000 to $4,000 for the 2003 gubernatorial race because of the shipping costs. The previous punch-card ballots required a package to be sent out, costing a couple dollars each. With the new voting system, the one sheet will cost 37 cents.

“It is a lot easier to deal with,” Reinhardt said.

The 2004 presidential primary is the prospected first use of the new ballot system and optical scanners.

“We should be fully converted by then, unless something happens at the federal level, as far as federal funding and we have to hold off,” Reinhardt said.

Reporter Jackie Keane can be reached at [email protected]

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