- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 11, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Tomorrow, for the first time, every voter in Virginia will be able to cast his or her ballot on electronic voting machines.

Under the federal Help America Vote Act, every locality nationwide is required to have new machines by the first federal election this year.

In Virginia’s case, that is tomorrow’s primary elections. Congress enacted the change in 2002 after the 2000 presidential election voting fiasco in Florida.

With $69 million in federal money, every locality has been able to replace punch-card, mechanical-lever and paper ballots with touch-screen or optical-scan machines.

All the voting precincts in Virginia will be open Tuesday to allow balloting in a U.S. Senate Democratic primary.

In addition, there is a Republican primary in the 8th Congressional District and a Democratic primary in the 11th Congressional District.

Barbara Cockrell, assistant secretary of the Virginia State Board of Elections, said the majority of the 134 Virginia localities have decided to go with touch-screen equipment, which works much like bank automated teller machines.

Although Virginia is ahead of most states in the equipment purchases, it trails in creating a statewide voter-registration computer file. Miss Cockrell said Virginia has received a waiver because it could not meet the Jan. 1 deadline.

The federal money also has been spent on training and election materials.

The new machines were designed to eliminate the postelection uncertainties that arose from hanging chads and other problems in Florida.

Still, there has been a groundswell of opposition to the devices, particularly to the touch-screen machines.

Critics say the machines can be rigged to benefit a particular candidate. They also are demanding that the machines create a paper trail so that people can confirm how they voted.

“There are a lot of emotions about this,” said J. Kirk Showalter, Richmond’s general registrar. “Any time you have change, people are not happy.”

A General Assembly subcommittee spent a year studying the need for paper trails and could not reach a consensus.

Meanwhile, the question of creating paper trails has been handed over to the General Assembly’s Joint Commission on Technology and Science for study in the coming year.

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