Counting ballots, counting dollars 

Representatives of Election Systems & Software (ES&S) visited a meeting of Missoula’s Election Advisory Committee on Wed., Feb. 18, to familiarize the committee with new voting hardware and software that the city will use in this year’s elections. Most voters will use an ES&S optical scanner unit with a memory card that holds all election data.

The committee had a good laugh as ES&S Regional Sales Manager Craig Seibert introduced the new equipment.

“It’s pretty self-destructible—indestructible, I should say,” Seibert said.

Committee members fed mock ballots into the M-100 optical scanner, a computer ballot-counter able to spit improperly marked ballots back out to the voter for correction. While the new machines are advertised as virtually foolproof, KPAX’s Ian Marquand found a flaw by filling in ovals on part of his ballot and checking off the ovals on another part. The machine thought that Marquand chose not to vote in the race in which he used check marks and therefore didn’t spit the ballot out, or count the votes.

Seibert noted that most voters will be more consistent in their marking method.

Another new addition to all Montana polling places will be the implementation (no later than 2006) of digital touchscreen direct recording equipment, or DREs, which have come under fire due to independent studies which have found the DREs to be corruptible and a recent Broward County, Fla., election in which a legally required recount proved impossible with DREs. Security groups champion a voter-verified paper trail—already mandated by California and Nevada—as the antidote to most DRE problems; it’s a feature that Seibert and Missoula’s ES&S Project Manager Jeff Farr said the company is working on.

Seibert says that if Secretary of State Bob Brown requires a voter-verified paper trail for Montana (as Help America Vote Act coordinator Amy Sullivan has said he will), machines capable of such will cost an extra $500–$1,000. So if the question is, “What is the cost of peace of mind in Montana’s electoral process,” the state-wide answer will likely be an additional $355,000 to $710,000.

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