Voting technology makes state debut in primaries

Charley Bruce

Minnesota voters will be able to use a new ballot-marking device geared toward making voting easier and more accurate in the state primaries Tuesday.

The Help America Vote Act, which federal legislation passed in 2002, modernizes vote-casting technology to provide easier voting access to citizens.

Lawrence Jacobs, director of the University’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs’ Center for the Study of Politics and Governance, said the main goal of the legislation is to make the electoral process accessible to American citizens.

“It was a reaction against the widespread frustration and anger about the processes of voting in Florida in 2000,” Jacobs said.

One part of the act is to modernize the way America votes, Jacobs said, so there isn’t the difficulty of counting votes like there was in Florida.

In accordance with Help America Vote, Minnesota – along with every state in the nation – will provide a machine at every polling place.

The machine is known as AutoMark, produced by Omaha, Neb.-based Election Systems and Software.

Federal funds paid all costs associated with the AutoMark machines, Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer said. The machine cost about $4,860, she said, but licensing, maintenance, operation and training costs bring the total for each machine to about $6,000.

“The goal here is that all voters get equal treatment,” Kiffmeyer said.

Federal government funds also bought M100 vote counting machines, which also are made by Election Systems and Software, for all the districts, Kiffmeyer said.

The M100 and its precursor have been used in Minnesota for about the past 15 years, but M100s check for errors in the precinct so changes can be made, Kiffmeyer said.

The M100s tally the votes and both, the AutoMark and M100, scan for procedural errors, Kiffmeyer said.

“That is the greatest news – that statewide, 100 percent, every person in the state, has the opportunity to check their ballot for procedural error,” Kiffmeyer said.

People with disabilities
Uriah McKinney, chairman of the Disabled Student Cultural Center at the University said the Help America Vote Act was a great step to help disabled people vote.

For a long time the disabled community didn’t get the attention it needed, he said.

Getting into polling places was difficult for disabled voters before the Americans with Disabilities Act took effect in 1992. Since then, it hasn’t been a problem, he said.

Neutral parties, such as polling workers, helped disabled people fill out their ballots, McKinney said, which opened the door for vote manipulation.

Voters lose part of the democratic process by having someone else fill out their ballot, McKinney said.

There has been “a lack of public awareness for individuals with disabilities,” he said.

How it works
Cindy Reichert, director of Minneapolis elections, said all voters using the machines get the same ballot and insert it into the machine.

“The message to the voters is consistency across Minnesota,” Reichert said.

The computer replicates the ballot on the touch screen, Reichert said.

While it’s on the screen, voters can adjust the contrast, enlarge font size or use headphones for an audio reading of voting options, according to Election Systems and Software’s Web site.

A visually impaired voter can also use a Braille keypad, Reichert said.

There is also a sip/puff mechanism for voters unable to use their hands, according to Election Systems and Software’s Web site.

After the voter marks his or her vote, the machine prints it out on a paper ballot, Reichert said.

The machine is “a ballot marker,” Reichert said. “It doesn’t count any votes. It’s like a big pen.”

A paper ballot is required by Minnesota law for vote verification.

Minnesota is one of four states requiring paper ballots, according to electiononline.org, part of the election reform information project.

Jacobs said he believes a paper trail increases voter confidence because voters can verify the vote cast is the vote counted.

“I think there is a lot of suspicion that the failure to have a paper trail opens the door for misuse and abuse of the process,” he said.

Effects on turnout
Jacobs said he didn’t think the legislation will affect voter turnout in Minnesota because state turnouts are very high already.

Minnesota has among the highest turnouts in the nation in general elections. In 2004, Minnesota voter turnout was at 70 percent, about 10 percent higher than the national average, Jacobs said.

“Minnesotans vote like Europeans,” Jacobs said.

Turnout rates In Europe traditionally hit 70 to 80 percent, he said.

“We’re pretty amazing, Minnesotans,” Jacobs said.