Originally created 05/23/01

State officials sample electronic voting systems



SAVANNAH - And you thought choosing a cell phone was confusing.

Electronic voting machine vendors from across the country are in Savannah this week, hoping to dazzle state elections officials at their annual conference.

At this time last year, products like eSlate, AccuVote-TS and the iVotronic would have been a high-tech, impractical fantasy for most Georgia counties.

That was before Nov. 7, 2000, pregnant chads in Florida and the closest presidential election in history. Since then, the Georgia General Assembly has become the first state legislature to adopt a single, electronic voting method for the entire state.

It's supposed to be in place by 2004, with an estimated price tag of $20 million to $50 million.

Enter the salesmen, hawking a dizzying array of technology to take the angst out of voting and tabulating.

They're talking touch-screen technology, "tactile input switches" and ballot imaging.

Then there's Dan Gloger.

"The most accurate voting system is still the punch card," he insists. "I don't care what they say."

Mr. Gloger, who services the machines, says the NM 1000 is worth $5,700. He's hoping to get $2,000 for it.

"We will be here to service them until the last one is gone. Meanwhile, we will move on to other technology," Mr. Gloger said.

Ransom Shoup is in the midst of a transition, too.

Mr. Shoup's name is synonymous with the hulking mechanical voting machines that used to be an election-day mainstay; the company has been in the election business for more than a century.

Mr. Shoup said his Quakertown, Pa.-based business had been developing an electronic touch-screen voting device for more than two years. The company went into overdrive after the November election.

Chattahoochee County Probate Judge Kenneth Van Horn had some questions for Mr. Shoup.

How many backups does the machine have? What's its battery backup? How easy would it be to upgrade?

Judge Van Horn is one of the 18 members of Secretary of State Cathy Cox's 21st Century Voting Commission. They'll watch November's pilot program, which will showcase five vendors' programs in 13 cities across the state, including Statesboro and Reidsville.

"This is all new. This is really, really new," Judge Van Horn said as he stepped away from Mr. Shoup's booth. "They've been in the business over 100 years, and they've not yet gotten national approval."

Before the pilot program starts, participating companies' machines must be certified on the national and state level. Some of them are in the midst of the process now, hoping to make it by Ms. Cox's summer deadline.