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Bill: cities don’t need Diebold

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

Voters in Park City and other municipalities later this year might not be made to cast ballots on the touch-screen machines that debuted amid controversy in 2006.

Utah legislators are considering a bill that would clarify that cities are not required to use the machines.

The machines, manufactured by Diebold Election Systems, were introduced during last year’s election season. Whether they are trustworthy was the key issue in the contest for the Summit County clerk, the county’s chief election official.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Douglas Aagard, a Republican from Kaysville, passed the House on a 59-0 vote on Friday. Sixteen representatives did not vote. Summit County’s two legislators, Republican Mel Brown from Coalville and Democrat Christine Johnson from Salt Lake City, cast ‘Yea’ votes. The Senate must consider the legislation.

The bill holds that Utah’s election laws do not require the touch-screen machines be used in municipal primary elections, municipal general elections or local special elections, among other changes to the state’s election laws.

In November, voters in Park City are scheduled to go to the polls to pick three members of the City Council. Candy Erickson, Joe Kernan and Marianne Cone now hold the seats.

Election officials chose the Diebold touch-screen machines in an effort to comply with federal rules adopted after the contested 2000 presidential election. The rules govern federal elections, which are held in even-numbered years. Municipal elections in Utah are held in odd-numbered years. Those are not regulated by the federal rules, known as the Help America Vote Act.

"They are not required to use the electronic machines. It lets the cities do what they’ve done in the past," says Scott Hogensen, the chief deputy in the Summit County Clerk’s Office.

Hogensen says, under the bill, each city would consider its voting method and they would likely choose from several options. He says they could pick the touch-screen machines, bubble ballots, which are sometimes known as optical-scan ballots, or hand-counted paper ballots, on which voters mark an ‘X’ next to their choices.

He says cities choosing the touch-screen machines face the largest cost. They would need to hire county officials to run the elections since the counties, not the cities, purchased the machines. Many small cities choose hand-counted paper ballots, he says.

The Diebold machines provided months of fodder during the 2006 campaign for the clerk’s office, won by Democrat Kent Jones.

Kathy Dopp, a voting-rights activist who ran against Jones as a member of the outsider Desert Greens Party, campaigned on an anti-Diebold platform. She and others are worried that the machines are open to Election Day mischief. They want the votes to be backed up by a verifiable paper ballot that can be audited.

Locally, there were not suspicions about the vote counts on Election Day 2006. Many people who voted on the touch-screen machines for the first time in November said they were simple to use and they were not concerned with the possibilities of shenanigans when the votes were counted.

Dopp says she has not read the bill but she says allowing municipalities to choose other voting methods is smart. She says they could be less expensive, more reliable and easier to audit than the touch-screen machines.

"It’s good to let the municipalities clearly know that they don’t have to use a costly, unreliable, easily tampered with voting system," Dopp says.

After the 2006 election, Dopp urged Mayor Dana Williams and the City Council to consider not using the touch-screen machines in the 2007 election. There have not been detailed public discussions since then.


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