Posted on Sat, Apr. 23, 2005
State to add touch-screen voting machines
PIERRE, S.D. - South Dakota should have new touch-screen voting machines installed in each county by the 2006 primary election, Secretary of State Chris Nelson said.
The state has negotiated a contract with Election Systems & Software of Omaha, Neb., to provide 660 of the machines at a cost of $4.6 million, Nelson said.
"Every polling place will have a touch-screen machine," Nelson said. "Every voter will be able to vote privately and independently, in many cases, for the first time in their lives."
The AutoMARK Voter Assist Terminal system purchased by the state doesn't count the votes, which makes it different from electronic systems that have raised concerns in Florida and other states, said Nelson.
The machine lets voters mark a ballot despite a vision impairment or some other physical limitation. The completed ballot bears blackened ovals next to the names of candidates similar to the current system. Ballots from the touch screens are dropped in a box with the other ballots and run through the optical-scan counter.
Touch-screen voting machines are required by the federal Help America Vote Act and federal funds will pay 95 percent of the cost, Nelson said.
Minnehaha County has used ES&S equipment since 1994, said Auditor Sue Roust.
It will need 70 touch-screen machines, one for each of its polling places, and it may try to have a couple of back up terminals, she said. Commissioners already have set aside $84,000 as the county match for the equipment.
"I'm very pleased the state chose a vendor we're familiar with in Minnehaha County," Roust said.
Lincoln County Auditor Paula Feucht said her county will need 14 touch-screen terminals, and has set aside about $17,000 as its share of the cost.
For the 16 counties that count ballots by hand, the state will pay for optical-ballot counting machines, Nelson said.
The new machines will be a help to citizens with disabilities, the head of a Pierre-based advocacy agency said.
Robert Kean, executive director of South Dakota Advocacy services, said the touch-screen machines allow many people with disabilities to vote in privacy and without assistance, one goal of the Help America Vote law.
"The voting machine addresses issues for a broad range of persons," Kean said, including those with temporary issues such as a broken arm, and the elderly. He used a test model of the machine and watched several people with disabilities try the system during a voting-machine fair that Nelson hosted earlier this year.
"I think it generated, frankly, some real excitement," Kean said.
Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com
© 2005 AP Wire and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.
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