The future of voting

Companies with names that include SafeVote, Votec, VoteHere, Election Systems & Software and Global Election Systems, Inc. are lining up for the chance to help California voters step into the 21st century.

It is a step that is probably long overdue, at least if you use November’s hanging-chad insanity in Florida as an indicator. Suddenly, the punch card voting system used in much of California seems so out of date, especially in a state that has driven the technology-based new economy.

So California’s leaders and would-be leaders are clamoring for a change in how we vote, which prompted Secretary of State Bill Jones and Assemblyman John Longville to recently sponsor the Election Technology Expo 2001 in Sacramento, where more than 40 vendors displayed their wares.

“Touch the future with touch-screen voting,” proclaimed a promotional sticker that circulated in Los Angeles County during the 2000 election, sounding a theme echoed by many vendors and participants throughout the day.

“I think we all want to see modernization in the voting system,” said Conny McCormack, registrar-recorder and county clerk in Los Angeles County. “It’s time for that.”

Touch-screen voting would avoid both unnecessary paper ballots and questions over the voters’ intent on ballots that may not be punched properly enough to be read by a machine. Limited field results show that touch-screen balloting is popular with voters.

Public reactions have been overwhelmingly positive in Placer County, one of the several counties to experiment with touch-screen voting systems last year.

According to James McCauley, clerk-recorder-registrar of voters, survey cards that evaluated the new systems were distributed on Election Day. Once the results were tallied, 90 percent of respondents rated the new voting system as exceptional and superior to traditional balloting.

Mischelle Townsend, registrar of voters for Riverside County, stated that the new technology appeals and reaches out to more voters than ever before. Townsend claims this technology is “very easy to use,” and “positions us for the future.”

Benefits of the new system include the ability to put a wide variety of languages on the ballots, flexibility of the units so that the disabled and elderly can sit down to vote, and special features that allow the blind or deaf to vote without the guidance or assistance of another person.

While the benefits of the touch-screen voting system are obvious, some remain skeptical of this new system, particularly in regard to elderly voters who might be confused by the technology. Other common fears include concerns about whether the electronic ballots will remain confidential and tamper-proof, although officials say the new technologies are secure.

However, the largest barrier in the progression of new voting technology is the cost of converting California’s 58 counties over to expensive new voting systems.