That marking pen again?

Chico voters are back to basics come March 5, since Butte County couldn’t afford to keep the slick touch-screen computer voting system it tested in a special election last June.

The system, in which voters simply point to the candidates and measures they want on a touch-sensitive computer screen, resulted in the county counting votes and getting out results in record time—by 9:30 on the evening of Election Day.

But to buy the system for keeps would have cost the county $2.7 to $3 million, and that’s out of the question, said Candace Grubbs, the county clerk-recorder.

“It’s going to take some creative financing,” she said. “We need better for our citizens than what we have.”

The Chico City Council voted last year to put $48,000 toward the purchase of a touch-screen system. “We ended up not charging them because we didn’t go ahead with the purchase,” Grubbs said. There was a special deal offered by the company whose system Butte County tested, but Plumas County bit first.

Now, Grubbs is looking for funding to match a contribution by the county and its municipalities, either via Prop. 41 on the March 5 ballot, which would allow a budget of $200 million to buy modern voting equipment, or from federal bills currently under consideration.

She’s a little worried that big counties like Los Angeles will suck up the bond money before Butte can get its hands on it, or that preference might be given to areas with punch-card voting systems. With its Mark-A-Vote optical scanning system—30-year-old technology—Butte is a small step ahead of its Florida-style brethren.

Still, Grubbs said, “we spend a lot of money duplicating ballots.” That means keeping track of votes cast on ballots that aren’t marked properly but still show a clear choice. “It’s very tedious work, [but] we’re lucky we don’t have the punch cards like other counties do.”

If Prop. 41 fails, there is still the chance of federal funding through bills like the U.S. Senate’s 565, which would give grants to help local governments upgrade.

Meanwhile, Grubbs said, the technology is getting better every day, becoming easier to read and use. The only drawback, she said, is that "you can’t send a touch-screen through the mail."