Voters introduced to computers

Voters introduced to computers
The day when citizens no longer will vote by marking a paper ballot with a pencil hasn't arrived yet.

It's drawing near, however.

South Dakota has already begun offering a new computerized voting system � called the AutoMARK � at polling places across the state.

There's one available for public inspection or for use by voters who want to cast absentee ballots for the upcoming June primary election in the auditor's office at the Clay County Courthouse in Vermillion, Secretary of State Chris Nelson told the Vermillion Rotary Club Tuesday.

Clay County citizens will be able to use it beginning with the state primary and local elections scheduled June 6.

The AutoMARK is an "electronic pen" which will aid a broad range of voters, including those with disabilities, in marking their ballots privately and independently, Nelson said.

The machines, he added, can be attributed to the fiasco that occurred with ballots and chads during the 2000 presidential election in Florida.

Congress responded in 2002 by passing the Help America Vote Act.

"That was an act that told states that we

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had to make a lot of changes in how we conducted elections," Nelson said. States had to move away from punch-card ballots, improve public access to polling places and put together a voter registration verification system.

One additional requirement mandated by Congress, Nelson said, requires that by the first federal election in 2006, every polling place in America has to have some kind of a touch screen voting machine.

"This is a pretty dramatic shift in how we do elections in America," he said.

The touch screen machines give people who are blind or disabled the ability to vote privately and independently.

"In South Dakota, for the June 6 primary, we will have one of these units deployed in every one of our 658 polling places across our state," Nelson said.

South Dakota purchased one AutoMARK for each polling place in the state along with

optical scan tabulating machines.

"When you go to vote, everybody gets the same paper ballot," Nelson said. "And every voter has a choice between taking a pencil and filling in those little ovals just like you always have, or using the AutoMARK machine to assist you in marking your ballot."

To make sure election workers are sure of all the changes in the upcoming primary election, Nelson will be returning to Vermillion on Thursday, May 4, to hold a special election workshop for poll workers from Clay, Lincoln, Turner and Union counties.

The workshop will be held from 8:30 a.m. to noon in the Clay County 4-H Center at 515 High Street.

Topics of the workshop will be the AutoMARK machines, flowchart guidelines, professional conduct, poll watchers, voter ID, provisional voting and poll closing procedures.

The election process in all states has become more costly, Nelson said, because of the computer systems required by Congress.

"This is a tremendously expensive project, no doubt about it," he said.

South Dakota had to purchase 658 AutoMARK units, and new ballot counting machines for 53 counties at a total cost of $4.6 million.

Ninety-five percent of the cost has been paid with federal dollars. County dollars have been used for the remaining five percent.

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