Tuesday, November 6, 2001

NORFOLK Some Virginians won’t have to pull levers, punch cards or worry about hanging chads on Election Day.
Voters in certain precincts in Norfolk, Arlington, and Henrico and Prince William counties are casting their ballots by touching computer screens as the state tests new voting technology.
The state will test three brands of touch-screen machines. If the machines perform well today, they will be certified for use in Virginia. Then, it would be up to local election officials to decide whether to buy them.
“In the long term, this will give localities the opportunity to provide the latest technology in voting equipment, the most secure technology in voting equipment and the most accurate technology in voting equipment,” said William Atkinson, deputy secretary of the State Board of Elections.
To sell voting equipment in Virginia, vendors must get their machines certified. The touch-screen machines have already undergone extensive testing at the national level by independent testing authorities, by various states and by a consultant for the state of Virginia, Mr. Atkinson said. The Election Day test is one of the final stages.
“I would be shocked if something went wrong,” Mr. Atkinson said.
The test equipment is furnished by the vendors at no cost to the state or locality.
In Henrico County, two precincts will test the SVS by Shoup Voting Solutions, and two precincts will test the iVotronic by Election Systems and Software, Mr. Atkinson said.
Two precincts in Prince William County will test the iVotronic system, and two precincts in Arlington will test the SVS, he said.
In Norfolk, the Titustown and Zion Grace precincts with a total of nearly 4,000 active registered voters will try out the AccuVote-TS machine by Global Election Systems.
Norfolk has set aside $2 million to replace its old punch-card equipment, said Elisa J. Long, general registrar. Problems with punch-card machines showed up in Florida during last year’s presidential election. Votes can go uncounted if the ballot is punched only partially, leaving behind bits of paper the infamous hanging chads.
Touch-screen machines are designed to prevent that and other problems, said Allen E. Stanley, regional manager for Global Election Systems, based in suburban Dallas.
The $3,500 AccuVote machine also won’t allow a voter to vote for more than one candidate in the same race, which would make the ballot invalid. And it alerts voters if they skip a race, allowing them to go back and cast a vote in that contest if they so choose.
The color screen shows the candidate’s name in large print, so older voters often find the machines easier to use, Mr. Stanley said.
Voters are given a smart card with an embedded computer chip. They put the card in the machine, and the machine brings up instructions and the appropriate ballot.
“The future is the card,” Mr. Stanley said. “If you look at new Visas, new American Express cards, they’re smart cards. That’s where society is going.”
The machines have battery backup systems, preventing data loss during a power outage, he said.
“It’s so much more user-friendly than the old system,” Miss Long said. The machine is as easy to use as an ATM or a touch-screen bridal registry at a store, she said.

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