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Utah is now considering bid proposals for voting machines from Diebold and ES&S.

Salt Lake Tribune Electronic voting has strong supporters, opponents

By Thomas Burr

2004-08-13

Annette Rose has a promise.

If Utah decides to use electronic voting equipment without a paper backup she vows to knock on every door in her Salt Lake City precinct and urge neighbors to vote by absentee - on paper.

"The democratic process is lost if votes can't be verified," Rose told a state committee that will soon decide what type of equipment Utahns will use in future elections.

Rose was not alone during Thursday's public hearing about the switch from punch-card balloting to a new form of voting. Two companies, Diebold and Election Systems & Software, are bidding for the state's $20.5 million contract to provide the new technology, but some residents argue the state is moving too fast and hasn't set a high enough standard for the new voting equipment.

Others say the process is working.

"A secure, accurate and accessible system can be and should be purchased in time for the 2006 election," said Fraser Nelson, executive director of the Disability Law Center. Nelson advocated the switch to an electronic type of voting equipment to allow disabled voters - there are 250,000 in Utah, she says - to cast a private ballot without the assistance of a poll worker or relative.

Still, some have concerns with the available technology. Several residents and group representatives said problems persist with electronic voting, specifically that computers can't be trusted to count votes as cast by voters.

"Voting machines on the market today are all unacceptable and error-prone " said Kathy Dopp, founder of the new group, Utah Count Votes, who called for the state to scrap its current process and take more time.

Salt Lake City resident Nathan Dykman said the state committee "has been handed Pandora's box," without the resources to deal with it. He added that the system needs to be open to public scrutiny, not a secret. "The voting systems, the voting process are owned by the public. It should be open to the public," he said.

Before the public hearing, the state committee met behind closed doors to discuss the next part of the process. The group also decided to hire a few computer experts to assist in deciding which system would be best, according to committee chairman Val Oveson, the state's chief information officer. Committee attorney Thom Roberts, an assistant attorney general, has said previously that the committee is only making a recommendation to Lt. Gov. Gayle McKeachnie, so it does not need to follow the state's Open Meetings Act.

Oveson said the committee would hold a mock election in mid-September with the two companies' products and evaluate the results.

The committee also will host another public hearing in September or October, Oveson said.

tburr@sltrib.com


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