Originally created 11/05/02

State is ready with computer voting system



Today, Georgia becomes the first state in the nation to conduct its elections exclusively by computer, but don't tell that to Lynn Bailey.

As director of elections for Richmond County, Mrs. Bailey has decided not to utter the dreaded "C" word around the east Georgia voter precincts she oversees.

"I don't like to use the word 'computer,"' she said. "I like to refer to them as "touch screens. I think 'computer' gives people the misconception that there is going to be something very difficult about this equipment."

With the memory of Florida's 2000 election meltdown still fresh in many voters' minds, it's understandable that some degree of stress and anticipation surrounds the unveiling of the Georgia system, which is meant to cut down on voter error and ballot confusion.

Despite some nervousness, state and county officials say they are prepared for today's general election, in which 22,000 touch-screen computers will be used in every precinct throughout the state.

"The poll workers have been going the extra yard to attend extra training," said Gail Schrader, who started her job last month as the new Athens-Clarke County director of elections. "I think voters will be pleasantly surprised."

State officials purchased the $54 million system from Diebold, a Texas-based producer of automated teller machines.

The decision came after Georgia's 2000 presidential elections, in which Georgia had a higher rate of uncounted votes than Florida.

Georgia saw 3.5 percent of its votes go uncounted, compared with Florida's 2.9 percent and the national average of 1.9 percent. If problems arise again, however, they won't go unnoticed.

Officials have made efforts to educate as many voters as they could before today's election by demonstrating the new technology in malls, businesses and schools.

Much time has been spent working with senior citizens, many of whom have never used a computer touch screen before today.

At a test-drive session in Macon last week, Annie Ruth Taylor visibly struggled as she tried to insert her voter ballot card into the machine. Later, she became confused on how to advance through the electronic ballot.

After some help from a worker with the secretary of state's office, the 69-year-old seemed to get the hang it.

"All you have to do is know what you're going to vote for and just mash that," she said.

Secretary of State Cathy Cox has overseen the purchase and distribution of the voting machines.

The Democrat, who is up for re-election today, says she believes her office has exhausted every resource it had to train as many poll workers as possible.

Reach Brian Basinger at (404) 589-8424 or at brianmns@mindspring.