COLLEGIAN STAFF WRITER |
Whether students and local residents vote for John McCain, Barack Obama or someone besides the two main party candidates, they will be voting using new optical scan machines.
Mary Vollero, chairwoman for Concerned Voters of Centre County, said the voting process on Election Day should run smoother than past elections with the new machines.
She also encouraged students to check their voting precinct before they go to vote, which should also expedite the process.
At the beginning of 2006, federal and Pennsylvania state governments forced counties to purchase new voting machines, Centre County Commissioner John Eich said.
For the 2006 primary, both touch screen and optical scan machines were used and then just touch screens were chosen.
However, county officials began hearing of problems with the touch screen machines.
Voters thought they were voting for one candidate but machines showed they were voting for another, officials heard complaints of "erroneous tabulations" and there was no way to do a recount independently of the machines.
Furthermore, Eich said, the touch screens were more expensive than the optical scans.
"It really struck at voter confidence, and people weren't comfortable with the system," Eich said.
At the beginning of 2008, Centre County commissioners Eich and Rich Rogers ran their election campaigns on changing the voting machines, Eich said, adding their plans to change them involved two public forums and a Web site to gauge local voter response.
"People were at least 2 to 1 in favor of making the change," Eich said.
The Centre County commissioners voted 2-1 in August to get 200 new voting machines for the county in time for the upcoming presidential election -- 100 optical scans and 100 AutoMark machines, which are used by voters with disabilities.
There will be one of each machine per precinct (there are 89 in Centre County), but multiple booths in which to fill out the ballot.
The county spent about $1.2 million on the new optical scan and AutoMark machines, but after getting about $423,000 back for the old machines, the net cost was between $750,000 and $775,00, Eich said.
"Cost was a leading issue that came up in the discussion, and if there was any reason that was going to block this switch, it was the cost," Eich said. "What I think overcame that concern was the overwhelming support by the public for the optical scan system."
He added the county purchased the machines using county reserve funds, and the new machines have not had an impact on county taxes.
Rogers, who also voted in favor of the new machines in August, said he believes a paper trail is important.
"We audit our books for taxes," Rogers said. "Why shouldn't we be able to have an audit to our votes?"
Commissioner Steve Dershem, who voted against the new machines, was unable to be reached by press time.
In August, Dershem told the Daily Collegian he wasn't as dissatisfied with the touch screen machines as Eich and Rogers were.
Vollero was among those who advocated for new machines and said the optical scans are "preferable" but not "perfect."
"None of the voting machines that we have available are perfect," Vollero said.
"Because they're not perfect and because there have been glitches in the past with machines, we wanted to be able to do audits, which check the machines with a paper trail," she added.
Joyce McKinley, director of elections for Centre County, said voters shouldn't have any problems with the optical scan machines unless they overvote or undervote.
Overvoting happens if the voter has chosen more candidates than allowed, and undervoting is when voters choose fewer candidates than allowed. In those instances, voters can choose to have the ballot returned to them or accept the ballot as it is, McKinley said.
"With the high turnout, we just encourage people to be patient," McKinley said, adding presidential elections always inspire a heavy voter turnout.
McKinley said peak voting times tend to be first thing in the morning and from 4 p.m. to closing at 8 p.m.
Jodi Neidig, assistant director for elections and voter registration for Centre County, said the new machines may give voters more security about the voting process.
"The biggest problem, I think, is going to be waiting in line," Neidig said. "We're expecting such a huge turnout."