February 3, 2008 - Paper ballots expected to yield slower election results
Paper: Oroville Mercury-Register (CA)
Title: Paper ballots expected to yield slower election results
Date: February 3, 2008
Author: ALAN SHECKTER/MediaNews Group
BACKGROUND: California Secretary of State Debra Bowen decertified touch-screen voting systems in August.
WHAT'S NEW: Voters will largely return to paper ballots for Tuesday's presidential primary election.
WHAT'S NEXT: Officials expect a delay in election results?
It will take an extra few hours to answer the question, "Who won?" on Tuesday.
After using touch-screen voting machines in the 2006 primary and general elections, Butte and Glenn County will take a technological step backward to mostly paper ballots for Tuesday's presidential primary election.
Butte and Glenn County's clerk/recorders agree the tabulating process will take longer, following California Secretary of State Debra Bowen's decertification of the electronic machines in August.
"Absolutely it's going to be slower," said Susie Alves, Glenn County's assistant clerk/recorder.
Rather than calculating votes digitally, all paper ballots will have to be reconciled at the precinct, ferried back to county elections offices and fed one by one into scanners, just as they were in the days before touch-screens.
An additional delay is expected. In previous years, punch-card paper ballots were counted with a high-speed counter. New, larger paper ballots have rendered those counters obsolete. Instead, ballots will be fed into slow-speed scanners that take a few seconds to process a single ballot. The slow-speed scanners were intended to count only vote-by-mail ballots, not every ballot .
Butte and Glenn counties spent millions on the touch-screen machines, only to have their approval reversed. High-speed scanners for the new paper ballots do exist, but they cost $85,000 per machine, an expense the state has not offered to cover.
After the polls close at 8 p.m., the early vote-by-mail tallies will be posted, but the precinct numbers may be delayed two hours.
"I think we'll get out of here, instead of midnight, it'll be 2 o'clock in the morning," Alves said. "It really has impacted the way we do business."
Butte County Clerk/Recorder Candace Grubbs agreed, saying, "there's going to be a long lull" after the early vote-by-mail numbers have been posted.
"We'll have 10 slow-speed scanners and we'll have 10 people standing there with them," Grubbs said. "They are 1988 technology. We're jumping back 20 years."
Despite the overall decertification, one touch-screen can still be used per precinct. Glenn County will reserve those machines for the disabled, while they will be open to everyone in Butte County.
Grubbs said speed is not the biggest drawback to going back to the old system.
"The problem is with a paper ballot you can make errors," she said.
Paper ballots that have too many choices checked have to go through an extensive evaluation process, she explained, while a touch-screen prompts the voter and gives him a second chance to fix such an error.
"A voting machine has never recorded a vote wrong," Grubbs said.
In Butte County, more than $3 million was spent on 600 touch-screen machines, and only 127 of them — one per precinct — can be used.
"I asked the secretary of state's chief attorney, if you have no plans for us using these machines, you need to tell us and we need to make a (new) business plan," Grubbs said.
Both Grubbs and Alves expect Tuesday's election, the state's first February presidential primary, to draw a large turnout, possibly as high as 60 percent, Alves said.
Grubbs said if elections are close, they might not be decided Tuesday night. Trends show more people than ever will turn in their vote-by-mail ballots on Election Day. And those votes won't be counted until Wednesday or later.
Section: Local News
Record Number: 8158849
(c) 2008 Oroville Mercury-Register. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Media NewsGroup, Inc. by NewsBank, Inc.