April 24, 2005


New voting equipment on the way




CHARLOTTE - Election officials across Eaton County will be working throughout the spring and summer to bring more than $300,000 in new voting equipment online in time for this year's last two elections.


Eaton County Clerk Fran Fuller said the county has received 55 new optical scanning units through the Help America Vote Act and the federal funding that accompanies it.


Eaton County's new machines were part of a purchase by the state of more than $16 million in new voting equipment. All of Michigan's more than 1,500 cities and townships will have optical scanning technology online by 2006 as part of the adoption of a precinct-based optical scan system.


The new machines mean all precincts in Eaton County will be using the same technology, and precincts will be able to report election results much quicker, Fuller said.


Currently, Eaton County has four types of voting equipment spread across its 6 cities and 16 townships: paper ballots, punch cards, optical scanners, and levered voting machines.


"We are really looking forward to having one type of equipment," Fuller said. "Until now, we've had to train workers and buy supplies for four types of equipment. Last fall when we had the juvenile justice millage, we had to proofread the various ballots five times. It has been a lot of extra work."


The equipment will be brought online throughout the rest of this year.


"Our goal is before November to have Olivet, which is using paper ballots, and Grand Ledge, which is using machines, to be converted for the fall election. Then we'll move equipment to Charlotte, Eaton Rapids, Potterville and other locations, where voters have had exposure to optical scan machines before and are used to the process."


Optical scan equipment lets voters indicate their ballot choices on a paper form by marking designated areas with a pencil or pen. Then those completed ballots are inserted into an electronic tabulator. The tabulator reads the ballot and stores the votes, and alerts voters to potential problems such as voting for too many candidates in a particular race. The paper ballots are then channeled into a storage bin until the election is over.


Fuller said county results will come faster because every tabulator has a modem and can send the information to her office soon after polls close. For those township halls and polling locations without telephone lines, tabulators have a card that can be removed and taken to her office where information can quickly be downloaded.


Grand Ledge City Clerk Gregory Newman said the change will be a significant one for Grand Ledge voters.


"Voters in Grand Ledge have been using lever machines since 1958, so this is a major change for them," Newman said, adding that Grand Ledge will be receiving optical scan equipment for all four of its precincts.

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