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Utah's New Voting Technology Seeks To Be More Reliable

This story was written by Heather Whittle, The Daily Universe

The opportunity for Utah's 1.5 million registered voters to make their voices heard in the 2008 presidential election has begun.

But with the nation's track record for faulty voting systems, it's no wonder voters are often skeptical of voting technology's reliability.

Most remember the infamous "hanging chad" ballots that were the center of a major controversy in the 2000 presidential election and led to a delay in naming the next president of the United States.

This year will be different. Utah voters across the state are using a touch-screen voting system, the AccuVote TSx terminal, for the first time in a presidential election.

"These machines make it much more straightforward," Utah County Clerk Bryan Thompson said. "There were all sorts of problems with the punch cards. ... Now, they touch what they want as they go through the process. They can make changes, then proceed and cast the ballot. It gives the voter flexibility."

Voters obtain an access card from poll workers that allows them to access the system. Voters then have the option to adjust the screen's contrast and text size to make reading the screen easier.

A major concern with the implementation of the new technology was how the older demographic would handle it.

"The Political Science Department at BYU did a study and found that individuals were receptive to the new technology," Thompson said. "There was an 80-85 percent satisfaction rate. We've had a lot of compliments from our elderly population. We were pleasantly surprised."

Poll worker Larry Chadwick, 71, of Provo, voted Thursday and said: "Once people find out how it works, they love it. You can see it and change it before you cast it. It has a lot of flexibility."

Each ballot page is a separate screen and each selection has a box next to it which the voter touches to select.

There is also a write-in option where voters can type in an alternative selection not listed on the ballot.

Some have questioned the security of electronic equipment in today's high-tech environment, but Thompson says the system's redundancy makes it secure.

The process uses a memory card as well as internal memory in the machine itself.

Utah has also added a printer which prints a paper copy of the ballot right alongside the machine before voters casts their ballots.

"If any one of these precautions fails, we can go to the other," Thompson said. "The machines go through several security checks too. ... It would take major collusion for anything to go wrong. I think it's much more secure and accurate and less subject to human error."

Thompson said this method also produces results more quickly.

"Punch cards took a lot longer to tabulate and count the vote because of all the work required after the cards were in," he said. "We would be up until the wee hours of the morning, counting. Now, all the setup is on the front end. When it gets to polling the votes, the results are coming much faster, as early as one hour after. We're finishing by 11:30 p.m. or midnight."

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