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Bedford County debuts eSlate voting machines

BEDFORD — At first glance, the eSlate voting machine looks a little like a video game. With the click of a few buttons, voters make their choices and then drop their ballots into the box.

The eSlate talks to blind voters and alerts people who vote for too many candidates. The machines, designed by Texas-based Hart Intercivic, were created with handicapped voters in mind. But anyone can use them, said Kim Kirchoff, Hart’s voter education and outreach manager.

“The nice thing that people don’t realize is that each vote is cast on paper,” Kirchoff said.

Thirty-five eSlate machines arrived last week, ensuring Bedford County’s compliance with the federal Help America Vote Act.

HAVA ordered states to eliminate the punch-card voting system and have handicapped-accessible voting machines in place by the May primary. The law was passed after Florida’s hanging-chad dilemma in the 2000 presidential election.

“Each and every community does not want to be the next Florida,” Kirchoff said.

Another 35 eScan machines are expected to arrive Wednesday.

These optical-scan machines won’t be much different from the machines voters used last fall, said Margaret Koenig, the county’s Director of Elections.

The only real change, Kirchoff said, is that instead of darkening an oval with a pencil, voters will fill in a rectangle with pen. Voters then will feed the ballots into a machine. Bedford has used optical-scan voting machines since 1983, Koenig said.

“So many people just don’t want to give up that paper ballot,” she said.

Bedford and Blair counties have joined Fayette and Lancaster counties in ordering the eSlate and eScan machines. Three other counties also may opt for Hart. Elections officials will be canvassing the county in coming months to explain the machines to residents.

 In official action Wednesday, March 22, 2006, the three-member board of Fayette Commissioners unanimously opted to buy HART InterCivic's eSlate voting system in response to the federal government's deadline to comply with the Help America Vote Act (2002). 
however according to  Herald-Standard  Voters may get look at new system 03/28/2006 after announcing the county's website contains a link to a demonstration of the eSlate voting system, Fayette County Commissioner Angela Zimmerlink said:  the county is in the process of signing a contract for the machines.
 Zimmerlink said Monday that the contract is not finalized yet, but the latest agreement total is approximately $1.2 million.
The machines will cost $2,500 each, for a price of $670,000 for the machines alone, and the county's grant allocation is $1.1 million.
The county also set aside an additional $500,000 in the 2006 budget to use toward the purchase of the machines, if necessary. The company will provide support and training in addition to the equipment.

Demonstration of eSlate is posted as a link on Fayette website - check it out. 
While the eSlate is easy to use, current PA law does not include a Voter Verified (Verifiable) Paper Audit Trail. 
According to HAVA
The voting system must permit the voter to verify privately and independently the votes selected before casting a ballot and must permit the voter privately and independently to change or correct a ballot before it is cast, including receiving a replacement ballot.
ESlate and all the certified Direct Recording Electronic machines, comply with the HAVA requirements.  None are permitted to display a paper record of the selections in a window that the voter can match against the "screen" display of votes about to be cast.
Pernnsylvania law makes the VVPAT illegal currently.
...therefore, you the voter, have no way of knowing whether the DRE eSlate screen version is accurately recorded on any paper. 
Voters who want to see a paper record of their vote will either have to wait for the VVPAT legislation from Harrisburg, or demand - for Fayette County - the eScan - or demand to use a paper ballot at the precinct.
See my final letter to Fayette Commissioners below

My final letter to Fayette Commissioners Thursday, March 30, 2006

Since the board of commissioners has not yet finalized a contract with Hart InterCivic concerning the purchase of the eSlate voting machines, I am supplying further information to the board to consider providing the voters of Fayette County with both the eSlate and eScan (Hart InterCivic) units at each precinct polling place. 


Lancaster County chose to have one eSlate (DAU) and one eScan (Precinct Digital Capture of Voter Selection) for voters to have a choice at the polling place on Election Day.  Comments made in the article linked convinced me this would be right for Fayette.


“I found the electronic machine was very easy,” said John Dodson, of Conoy Township, after getting an explanation of how the eSlate works and taking the time to play with the machine.

His wife, Ruth Dodson, agreed, and said the eScan, which reads marks on paper ballots, is a good way to keep a paper trail of votes.

“I think it’s a doable thing,” said one poll worker, who asked not to be named; while older people still are likely to be uncomfortable with a new way of voting, the combination of electronic and paper ballots gives voters a choice of technologies.


The Lancaster system seems to satisfy the person who found the eSlate easy to use, the person who felt the eScan was suitable for a paper trail, and according to the poll worker, the combination of electronic and paper ballots gives voters a choice of technologies.


The following chart shows how Hart InterCivic utilizes both the eSlate (Disabled Access Unit) and eScan Precinct Digital Capture of Voter Selection.


Unfortunately the Pennsylvania legislature has not yet acted on the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail for electronic voting systems. 


With the eScan - voters (who also don't want to vote absentee because second-chance voting is not afforded) will have the opportunity to use the paper-ballot at the voting precinct in accordance with second-chance voting (a HAVA requirement), and most importantly, the capability to verify their ballot on paper.


In the event Fayette doesn't provide the paper-ballot eScan Optical Scan Reader (PA certified 1/30/06), I am attempting to find information to answer whether it is a right of a citizen to demand the use of a paper ballot at the polling place on Election Day.


See my Tuesday, March 28, 2006 email to the Fayette Commissioners entitled on this site:  Holding Breath Will Fayette Purchase Paper Ballot eScan and eSlate?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006 thoughts and material FYI

Since the commissioners have not yet finalized a contract withHart InterCivic, Fayette County's Board of Commissioners could implement two voting systems for the use of voters at the polling place, just as was done in Lancaster County, PA.

The Fayette Commissioners can meet the HAVA handicapped accessibility requirements by purchasing one eSlate per precinct, and then for a second unit, have the eScan, a paper ballot system with optical scan reader.


The eScan (details here) doesn't appear to be handicapped accessible, but meets HAVA requirements for second-chance voting.


This will permit voters who want to vote a paper ballot, thereby having the ability to verify their ballot, a choice to do so. 


Currently, Pennsylvania has not passed legisltation which requires the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail on electronic voting machines.  Therefore, the eSlate does not provide any way for a voter to verify his ballot.


With a mix of electronic eSlate, and paper ballot eScan, individual voters can determine which voting system is their individual choice.

Pennsylvania Department of State went through a process to certify many voting systems to enable individual counties a selection of choices of voting systems.

Among a listing of other voting systems, Pennsylvania certified two Hart InterCivic voting systems.  One, certified November 18, 2005 is the eSlate while the other, certified January 30, 2006 is the eScan Optical Reader, according to Department of State's website (Updated on Friday, March 10, 2006 at 2:26 PM)

Lancaster County has provided both voting systems to voters, for a choice.
New voting machines draw crowd
By Helen Colwell Adams
Sunday News

Published: Mar 18, 2006 11:35 PM EST

LANCASTER COUNTY, PA - They say voters are apathetic
Tell that to the ones who lined up outside the Lancaster County Public Safety Training Center at 8:30 a.m., an hour and a half before the 10 a.m. start of a voting machine demonstration.
And to the hundreds of voters who streamed into the East Hempfield Township center all day Saturday to give the county’s new eSlate and eScan voting machines a test drive.
The overall verdict: Not bad.
“I found the electronic machine was very easy,” said John Dodson, of Conoy Township, after getting an explanation of how the eSlate works and taking the time to play with the machine.

His wife, Ruth Dodson, agreed, and said the eScan, which reads marks on paper ballots, is a good way to keep a paper trail of votes.

“I think it’s a doable thing,” said one poll worker, who asked not to be named; while older people still are likely to be uncomfortable with a new way of voting, the combination of electronic and paper ballots gives voters a choice of technologies.

Under a deadline in the 2002 Help America Vote Act, counties across the nation must replace their lever and punch-card machines before the May 16 primary.

That means it’s curtains for Lancaster County’s lever machines.

The county commissioners have voted to buy 275 eScan and 275 eSlate machines from Hart InterCivic of Austin, Texas, for about $3.2 million, with the federal government reimbursing $2.6 million of that.

Voters can choose to fill in a paper ballot, which looks like a standardized test, and feed it into the eScan to cast a vote, or to mark choices with a selection wheel on the all-electronic eSlate.

The eSlates are accessible for voters with disabilities. “What I really appreciate about them is that they’re so sensitive to people with disabilities,” said state Rep. Katie True, R-41st District, who cast a test vote with her husband, Peter.

No doubt there will be some glitches with any new system, she said, but all in all, “I think it’s a good system, and I would only be supportive of something that has a paper trail.”

Some voters wondered whether they’ll still be able to to vote straight party; they were assured both kinds of machines have the equivalent of the old machines’ straight-party lever...
Chart shows how the two systems eSlate and eScan could be used in county-wide elections.


Here is information about the Hart InterCivic eScan. 

About eScan
The eScan is a precinct-based, digital ballot-imaging component that relies on the fully integrated functionality of the Hart Voting System. After marking a paper ballot, the voter feeds it directly into the eScan at the precinct. The ballot image is stored as a Cast Vote Record on a Mobile Ballot Box flash memory card that can be retrieved and tabulated by Hart’s Tally application. eScan's capabilities include functionality to reject overvoted, undervoted, and blank ballots, thereby providing second-chance voting at the precinct.

This display shows the eSlate system which uses Ballot Now for tabulating of absentee ballots.  The foregoing system display showed use of both the eSlate and the eScan, and is very clear on the differences.

Electronic Voting System - eSlateŽ

The eSlate System automates the balloting and tabulation process, eliminating the need to work with multiple paper ballot styles and offering accuracy, security and efficiency. The components provide central, regional, and precinct tabulation, as well as complete reporting and auditing, making the eSlate System a comprehensive and integrated election solution.

When we show up at the polling place to cast a ballot, just in case many of us want a paper ballot but are told we have to use the eSlate (no Voter Verified Paper Trail), I suggest we request a Provisional Ballot.  Should the election officials deny us the use of a paper ballot or the Provisional Ballot, we have an excellent Civil Rights complaint.

Consolidation of voting precincts.  What a novel idea. The idea had been proposed then kicked around back in the mid-90s by then Fayette Commissioner Sean Cavanagh, but unfortunately he didn't lobby hard enough for it among the then fellow commissioners and the idea went nowhere.
I had thought about this as well for Fayette County, over past years, with the new board of commissioners, but as they publicly expressed, they aren't interested in consolidating districts.
I believe Norma Ryan, former mayor of Brownsville, ran that idea before the Election Board at a hearing a few months ago.  Maybe I still have that article.
As far as having one handicapped accessible unit in a central location, rather than one for each precinct, another excellent idea.  But then, the manufacturers of the electronic voting devices, even if they are HAVA compliant paper-ballot optical scan readers, would not sell as many units, would they.
Another reason against it is probably potential voter disenfranchisement, because handicapped persons might not want go to a central location, different from where non-handicapped voters go. 
Now, if all mail balloting were used, and there were clean voter registration rolls around the country, and there were central located areas which used the paper-ballot with scan readers (optical and/or digital) well there's the solution.
There wouldn't be the potential for voter fraud in the enormous way we have had in the United States.
But all of that is for another day.  This is here for your information and my spouting off a bit. 

Harrison County residents failed to use costly, federally-mandated voting equipment available for the first time Tuesday, said Elections Administrator Pam Brock.

The 2006 primaries were the first elections in which Disabled Access Units (DAUs) were in place, but Ms. Brock said she didn't know of anyone who used them.

"No one mentioned that the handicapped used the equipment," she said. "I had a blind man come to the office here to vote, but he said he preferred not to use the DAU. His wife assisted him in casting his ballot, as she has always done in the past," Ms. Brock said.

The units, mandated by Help Americans Vote Act, must be placed at every polling location on election day, as well as all early voting locations.

Although units are federally funded, Harrison County consolidated its 29 polling places of previous elections to Tuesday's 25 in order to minimize the expense.

"The cost for our county was $450,000," Ms. Brock said. "You multiply that by 254 counties in Texas alone, plus, when you consider this thing is nationwide – that's a great expense.

"I certainly want to make voting easy for the handicapped, but I wonder if it wouldn't have been a better idea to have a unit available at one centralized location instead of deploying them to every precinct in every county. Those tax dollars could have been used in other areas." (New equipment for disabled not used; e-scan presented some problems, Sunday, March 12, 2006)

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