Originally created 08/11/01

Aiken County voting enters electronic age



For the first time since 1972, Aiken County residents will vote using something other than the not-always-so-trusty Votamatic.

Rather than punch a chad, Burnettown residents will cast their votes electronically at the city's special election Aug 21.

The South Carolina Election Commission requested the electronic equipment at the election, said Stuart Bedenbaugh, the executive director of Aiken County Registration and Elections. He said the trial run will certify the alternative method for future use.

"Everybody agrees the sun should set on punch-card voting," Mr. Bedenbaugh said.

"People overall have confidence in our system," he said, but the recount of presidential votes in Florida in November eroded some of that trust.

Votes were recounted because chads, the cardboard portions of ballots that are punched out, weren't always thoroughly poked.

Hart interactive, based in Houston, is providing the equipment for the Burnettown election, in which Eddie Cunningham and Wayne New are running for a vacated city council seat.

Mr. Bedenbaugh estimated between 150 and 200 voters will turn out to vote and use a dial to highlight their preference on a digital screen, according to a Hart description of the machine.

Aiken County bought 336 of the Votamatics in 1972 for $67,500. The county currently has 460 machines. Mr. Bedenbaugh estimated it would cost $1.5 million to $2 million to replace them.

The Aiken County Registration and Election Board has been reviewing different voting methods since 1998. Mr. Bedenbaugh said he doubted a new system would be in place for the next general election, in 2002. He said the goal is to have a new system in place by 2004.

There will be a public test of the new equipment Friday at the Burnettown Municipal Building. Voters will be allowed to practice before entering the polls Aug. 21.

"I have no doubt almost all of the community would be in favor of new voting system," Mr. Bedenbaugh said. "Now the question is, where do we go from here?"

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803)279-6895.