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About Utah: Computerized voting is a solid winner

FARMINGTON — By all accounts, the voting was unanimous. It was as if the old Soviet regime materialized Tuesday at the polling station at Farmington Junior High. There hadn't been this much Election Day solidarity since the 1984 mayoral election of Leningrad.

Everyone agreed. The new computerized voting machines are an unqualified success.

"This is the way to go — the only way to go," said Mildred Olson as she exited the school library after exercising her right as an American on one of the city's new $3,600 high-tech, touch-screen voting machines. "I really don't think you can make a mistake . . ."

She paused just long enough for effect

". . . other than maybe about who you voted for."

Mildred, it should be pointed out, is 89 years old. Until this year, she'd voted all her life in the conventional way on a tangible piece of paper.

But "going computer" was as easy for her as changing hats.

"It really was not hard," she said. "All I had to do was read."

And technically, you don't even have to do that. For the sight impaired, the new machines are equipped with headphones that enable voting without seeing.

And if you try to vote twice, forget about it. One punch card, one vote, no exceptions.

Touch-screen voting takes no time at all. I watched as one woman, Amy Calvin, 35, completed her ballot and was out the door in one minute and 17 seconds. The performance was all the more impressive because, A) She had no idea she was being timed, and B) She was holding her baby, Samuel, in one hand, voting with the other, and keeping her two other children, Nicole and Aaron, from ransacking the library.

For younger voters like Amy, the new machines are second nature, about as intimidating as PlayStation. "I really can't remember life without computers," Amy said. "But I do remember when my parents didn't have computers."

Others, such as Nelda Oakeson, needed a little reassurance from the friendly polling station staff of Kay Percival, Floyd Breeze, Sue Smith and Janice Rose. "Anything that says computers or technology, I lose my mind," said Nelda as she waited for her husband, Willard, to finish his voting. "But once they showed me where to put my (access) card, it was OK."

"I had one tiny problem," said Willard. "Until I realized I had to push one more button, the one that said 'cast ballot.' "

The Oakesons, both 74, have voted since Eisenhower was running and wouldn't go back — at least not as far as voting machines are concerned.

"This was quick and efficient," said Willard. "We were amazed."

Nelda and Willard remembered also being amazed in their lifetimes by, in no particular order, radio, television, electric lights and the telephone.

"The one I marvel at more than anything is the cell phone," said Willard. "It's not the most important, but it amazes me."

As the Oakesons left as satisfied customers, Kay Percival, who has been helping officiate elections in Farmington for years now, noted that one of the nicest aspects of the computerized voting machines is how easy it is to fix it if you make a mistake.

"Before, if someone punched the wrong name, we had to put that in a spoiled ballot bin and they had to start over," Kay said. "Now, if you make a mistake, you just touch the screen again and it will be erased and you can start over. You can't vote for the wrong guy."

Or, as Mildred Olson might add, at least not knowingly.

Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to and faxes to 801-237-2527.