angie.thompson@gaflnews.com



TIFTON -- Antiquated, lever-activated voting machines will be a thing of the past for Tift County with implementation of Gov. Roy Barnes' $54 million spending plan to equip the entire state with up-to-date electronic voting equipment.

Secretary of State Cathy Cox campaigned to replace the voting equipment in Georgia's 159 counties after the long vote count in Florida in the 2000 presidential election.

The equipment currently used in Georgia varies from county to county. Many counties use scanning machines and some use punch cards. Two counties still rely on paper ballots. Tift is one of the counties still using the lever-activated Shoupe voting machines.

Cox rolled out electronic equipment as a test in 12 municipal elections this fall. She originally suggested the state buy or lease the machines over a three-year period in order to save money. Gov. Barnes took her by surprise with his plan to complete the acquisition in one year, and President George W. Bush has indicated he will include a Federal Election Referendum in his budget to provide grants to states to reimburse them for money spent to update equipment.

The 21st Century Voting Commission was established to oversee a pilot project to test direct record electronic (DRE) equipment.

Tift County Elections Supervisor Sylvia Dixon viewed the Shoupe touch machines in Thomasville and has viewed some of the others at training conferences.

"I am very impressed with the machines. They would definitely cut down on paperwork," Dixon said. "There will be a paper trail to follow, which is good, but the paper required won't be boxes and boxes full of paper anymore."

Kara Sinkule of Cox's office said the 21st Century Voting Commission has made recommendations to Barnes and to the General Assembly concerning systems that could be used statewide, but no one system has been identified. Companies have until Feb. 11 to submit requests for proposals. The committee specifically asked that DRE's have a battery backup in case of power outages and that they provide a paper audit trail so poll workers can count the votes manually if necessary.

Dixon said the new voting system will require only minor changes to the voting process. Voters must continue to keep their voter registration information current and show identification at the polls. Dixon doesn't anticipate many problems with the new system.

"There will be training sessions for the poll workers and there will also be a demo machine available so voters can practice before they cast their ballot," Dixon said. "I think if a person can read they will be able to vote virtually unassisted."

Dixon said she understands earphones are available for blind or illiterate voters to use with the machines.

Dixon said the information she has so far about the machines indicates that programming of the ballots for state and national elections will be done at the state level and local election ballot information will be downloaded from a CD-ROM.

Dixon said the Tift County Board of Elections and Registration has received inquiries from jurisdictions interested in purchasing the county's lever-activated Shoupe voting machines.

"New York has called. We should be able to sell these and recoup some money for them," Dixon said. "All of them are in good shape. We just had maintenance work done on them."

The General Primary/Non-Partisan Election/Special Election is scheduled for Aug. 20. A runoff, if necessary, is set for Sept. 10. People wishing to vote in the Aug. 20 election must register before July 22.



To contact reporter Angie Thompson, call 382-4321, ext. 208.



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