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No worry over voting machines here
Touch-screen problems elsewhere not seen in Hall County
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Joyce Shubert of the Hall County Elections Office walks along a row of covered and secured voting machines in a storage room. - photo by Tom Reed

Election 2008 calendar

Aug. 25-28: Democratic National Convention, Denver
Sept. 1-4: Republican National Convention, Minneapolis
Sept. 26: Presidential debate, Oxford, Miss.
Oct. 2: Vice presidential debate, site to be determined
Oct. 6: Deadline to register for general election
Oct. 7: Presidential debate, site TBD
Oct. 15: Presidential debate, site TBD
Oct. 27: Start of early voting period
Nov. 4; Election Day
Dec. 2: State runoff election, if needed
Jan. 20, 2009: Nation's 44th president inaugurated in Washington, D.C.

In some states, public suspicion surrounding the accuracy and security of electronic touch-screen voting has caused governments to discard the costly machines in order to restore public trust.

But in Hall County, where the machines again will be used this election year, Interim Elections Director Charlotte Sosebee-Hunter said she has complete confidence in the touch-screen system.

"I feel the security of our machines is top-notch," Sosebee-Hunter said.

Georgia began using the touch screens in 2002, when election offices across the country revamped their voting methods following Florida's hanging chad debacle in the 2000 presidential election. In that election, votes were recounted after some of the paper ballots were not correctly recorded. Georgia mandated electronic voting shortly thereafter in an effort to curb such mistakes.

Sosebee-Hunter said there have been no major problems since with Hall County's roughly 380 voting machines.

"These machines give you a more accurate vote," Sosebee-Hunter said. "What I like most about it is you can't over vote, and you get to look at your ballot before you cast. You wouldn't have that choice with the previous equipment."

Matt Carrothers, director of media relations for Secretary of State Karen Handel, said all of Georgia's voting machines must go through rigorous four-point testing before they can be used.

Other states, such as Florida and Ohio, have stopped using the touch-screen systems, fearing votes may not be tracked accurately without a paper trail and could be liable to hackers. This year, Florida got rid of almost all of its touch-screen units, which cost about $2,500 each.

Jennifer Krell Davis, communications director for the Florida Department of State, said touch-screen technology was widely pointed to as a source of error in a 2006 congressional race with an unusually low number of votes. Though it turned out the machines had recorded the votes accurately, the public still did not trust the new electronic units.

"At some point, you can't battle that perception. What you need to do is take whatever steps are available to increase voter confidence," Davis said.

In Ohio, however, at least 1,000 votes were dropped in nine counties in various elections due to the touch-screen units, though they were reclaimed within hours.

Premier Election Solutions Inc., the company that manufactures the equipment, told users to be aware of a programming error that could cause votes to be dropped if memory cards are not correctly uploaded. The error can be corrected by simply reloading the cards.

Sosebee-Hunter said no technical errors of that kind have occurred in Hall County, and assured the machines are secure.

"Our machines are not in anybody's possession long enough to get hacked into," Sosebee-Hunter said. "We have a security system and our machines are locked at all times in that room. They are sealed at all times in that room."

Jerry Holland, the supervisor of elections in Florida's Duval County, said though his precinct does not use the touch-screen technology, he believes with good leadership that it can be used successfully.

"It's an individual decision by state and also by counties and what their voters are confident with. If voters have confidence in their supervisor of elections and in the equipment they're using, there's not a problem," Holland said.

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