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Voting machine nears first test

Neither paper jams nor excessive costs will slow the implementation of electronic voting machines.

This November, after decades of punching the chads from their ballots, voters in Farmington and Brigham City will be casting their ballots on full-color, ATM-style machines. The two cities will provide the first test for the machines in which the ballots are for an actual election — and their failures could have a real impact on voters and candidates, especially if the problems resulted in lost or miscast ballots.

Errors in ballots are not a concern, however, for election officials in both cities, as well as the county clerks and state elections office. Instead, they were all confident after the announcement Thursday that not only would the machines reduce errors, but that people would be pleased with the ease of voting.

"We're very confident about the equipment," Davis County Clerk-Auditor Steve Rawlings said, who will manage the elections for Farmington at the Davis County Courthouse. "We want the public to see how well these will work."

Box Elder County Clerk LuAnn Adams said that she suspects people in Brigham City will applaud the machines after using them in a real election, just as the vast majority have been "positive" about the machines after trying them at the county fair this year.

"These machines are quite amazing," she said. "The ease and the simplicity are something which people will like."

The machines are the first of approximately 7,500 which will be delivered to the state for use in the 2006 general election, at a cost of about $3,200 per machine. The state has contracted to buy the machines from Ohio-based Diebold, which was one of two companies who responded to the request for proposal from the state, with $25 million in federal money.

In the past month, California officials have experienced screen freezes and printer jams with the same machines that Utah is purchasing. Utah Elections Director Michael Cragun said Thursday that the rate of errors to votes was less than 1 percent and that despite all of the problems, there were no votes lost during the test.

The machines are needed to meet the requirement of the Help America Vote Act, which was passed by Congress in 2002 after the voting debacle in Florida following the 2000 election. The act essentially eliminated the use of punch card ballots because they fail to meet standards for security, prevention of errors and don't allow disabled voters — especially the blind — to vote independently.

Even election officials are not guaranteeing an error-free election on the machines, simply because a 100 percent accuracy rate is practically impossible. But Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert said that the problems will not be major or have significant impacts on the outcome of the election — such as a machine failure which erases the cast ballots or changes votes — because of the "triple redundancy" of them.

"I don't know that any system is perfect, especially one which is run by humans," he said. "But this is a step up, and will improve accuracy and reduce voter error."