The Centre County Election Board will discuss today whether to replace the county's paperless touch-screen machines with more accountable optical scan machines.
The members of the election board, including Centre County commissioners Jon Eich, Rich Rogers and Steve Dershem, will discuss various proposals and recommend one, which will be voted on by the commissioners during the board of commissioners meeting Tuesday.
Eich is in favor of replacing Centre County's paperless voting machines.
"I think it is important that whatever voting machines are used by the county produce a voting record," Eich said.
He also cites the longer life expectancy of optical scan machines and security concerns about the touch screen machines.
The county's current machines were implemented in 2006 to comply with the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which was adopted in response to the Florida recount in the 2000 presidential election. Unclear punch card ballots made determining the vote difficult that year, forcing communities to stop using the punch ballots and adopt new voting systems, said Mary Vollero, chairwoman for Concerned Voters of Centre County.
State College officials had to choose between touch-screen machines with no paper trail or optical machines with a paper trail. After trying both, the county chose touch-screen machines in 2006.
The reason the county adopted the machines currently in use may be touch-screen machines make it easier for poll workers to process votes and are simpler to use, said Eich, who was not a commissioner when the decision was made. He also mentioned there have been problems with optical machines allowing people to vote more than once.
The board will decide between two proposals, one by Election Systems & Software (ES&S), which provided both the current touch screens and the county's punch cards since the 1970s, and one from ATM Diagnostics (ATM). Both proposals aim to provide optical
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scan machines and Automark machines, which are complementary to the optical machines and can help disabled people by filling out the ballot using a touch screen or a microphone, Eich said.
However, the extent of the services provided and the speed at which the machines can be provided are different. ES&S can provide the optical scan machines and Automark machines in time for the November presidential election; ATM will provide optical scan machines by November and Automark machines in 2009. The county will lease the machines for a period of four years for more than $1 million. The exact dollar amount depends on which plan is chosen.
"The main problem with the current voting system is that there is no voter-verified paper ballot," Vollero said.
With the old punch card system a record was possible, but not with the touch-screen machines. The machines give out one printout at the end of the day -- not a record of every individual vote, Vollero said.
"We have to trust that the vote is counted as we intended," she said, adding, "voting is the most basic building block of our democracy. It is unfathomable that something could be so blatantly unreliable."
Vollero was a poll worker at the Bellefonte South Precinct during the 2006 midterm elections and said many people were confused with how to use the machine or tally the votes.
"I saw how easily things can go wrong," she said. "It's just not transparent. Something as important as a citizen's voice needs to be transparent."
It is likely the commissioners will make a decision Tuesday, but they may seek more information or receive more proposals, Eich said.