City Hall rejects touch-screen voting |

City Hall rejects touch-screen voting

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

Park City officials want voters this year to make their selections on old-fashioned bubble ballots, not sleek touch-screen machines, a decision that could embolden voting-rights activists and one that refutes industry assertions that the newfangled machines are safe from vote-rigging.

The Park City Council recently told Cindy LoPiccolo, City Hall’s election chief, to pursue the bubble ballots, sometimes known as optical-scan ballots. She must recommend to Summit County Clerk Kent Jones that the bubble ballots be used. He then decides whether to accept the recommendation.

The City Councilors were unanimous in their desire for the bubble ballots and there was little debate. They did not explain in depth their reasoning but there was widespread debate before the 2006 election about whether the touch-screen machines, manufactured by Diebold Election Systems, are safe from hackers.

The Diebold machines were the pivotal issue in last year’s campaign for the Clerk’s Office, won by Jones, but there were not allegations of impropriety in the local vote count. The political left is especially concerned with the touch-screen machines.

If Jones accepts City Hall’s request, the bubble ballots would be used in a primary election, if one is necessary, and on Election Day, when three City Council spots are on the ballot.

"Obviously it’s not controversial just in Summit County or Utah, there’s a national discussion," Mayor Dana Williams says about the touch-screen machines. "I don’t know if I trust it, just in terms I have not been convinced it’s absolutely secure."

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A federal rule known as the Help America Vote Act, passed after the disputed 2000 presidential election, requires elections in even-numbered years, when congressional seats are on the ballot, be run on newer-style machines. But in an election in odd-numbered years, other balloting methods are available.

The City Councilors seemed interested in the controversy about the touch-screen machines and they argued it would be less expensive to run the upcoming municipal election on the bubble ballots. According to LoPiccolo’s calculations, voting with bubble ballots would cost City Hall about $5,400, compared to the approximately $8,300 touch-screen balloting is estimated to cost.

"It will be significantly cheaper, no doubt in my mind," Jones says.

Explaining her support of the bubble ballots, LoPiccolo notes the less expensive price tag and says bubble balloting is simpler to test, easier to set up and experts are easier to hire to ensure the machine works. They are also easier to secure and auditing and recounting the votes can be done more simply, she says.

"The optical-scan voting system is highly reliable," LoPiccolo says.

Voter interest in Election 2007 is difficult to project. There has not been much discourse yet about the City Council campaign and Parkites seem happy with the direction of City Hall. But a statewide school-voucher ballot measure will also be decided. That decision is expected to draw many voters who otherwise might not cast ballots in November.

Kathy Dopp, a voting-rights activist and a critic of the touch-screen machines, hails the City Council’s decision, saying the bubble ballots offer a record of a voter’s intent, better balloting security and shorter lines on Election Day.

"Terrific. Op-scan has a lot of advantages," Dopp says, adding, "(Voters) know, then, there is a durable record of their vote, that they can actually see and verify it’s correct."

Dopp, who did not attend the recent City Council meeting, says she will vote with more confidence when she makes her selections.

"I’m going to be very happy they’re using paper ballots," Dopp says. "That way I know my ballot is cast correctly."