Debate about voting machines erupts in Basin
Only a handful of residents showed up Thursday to try Summit County’s new electronic voting machines.
"It’s easier than I thought it was," western Summit County resident Robert Wright said after casting a mock ballot at the Sheldon Richins Building.
The demonstration was the first of three scheduled this week to give citizens their first look at equipment they will use to vote this year. Six people showed up to try the new system.
"I’m always a little bit suspicious of computer voting," Wright said, adding that hackers have him nervous that election results might be tampered with.
He is concerned someone may set up the touch-screen voting machines incorrectly and cause an Election Day crisis.
"It could happen," West Side resident Kathy Wright added.
The couple has followed the controversy surrounding Utah Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert’s decision to purchase voting machines from the company, Diebold. Elections activists have panned the choice.
"One would almost imagine that these Diebold voting machines are specifically designed for tampering with elections to undetectably rig elections," said Park City resident Kathy Dopp, organizer of the activist group, Utah Count Votes.
Dopp, a member of the Desert Green Party, is challenging incumbent Summit County Clerk Sue Follett, a Democrat, in the race to become the county’s top election official. A debate erupted Thursday between the two candidates when Dopp showed up to critique the machines.
She alleged the county is stuck with faulty voting equipment because Follett didn’t properly inform Summit County commissioners about the machines’ deficiencies.
"Our lieutenant governor is forcing us to use them," Dopp said. "I would have recommended to all my county commissioners that they vote against them."
The ATM-style election machines present voters an electronic ballot. People make decisions by touching the names of their candidates from those displayed on a computer screen.
Diebold officials insist the machines are user friendly, but Dopp claims some beginner computer scientists could hack into election results.
She encourages the Summit County Commission to independently audit a sample of the results from the upcoming June primary to ensure the new machines work correctly.
"County commissioners have control of budgets and land-use issues in the millions (of dollars,)" Dopp said. "They could benefit from rigging elections."
As county clerk, Dopp says she would attempt to form a committee made up of citizens to oversee hand counts and compare the results with the Diebold tallies.
Follett, however, is not required to audit election results.
"I’m not concerned about the security procedures," Follett said, not disclosing where Summit County’s 153 voting machines are stored. "We have a video system on it 24 hours a day part of my security system is, I’m not going to tell you where it is."
Roughly 25 of the machines received by Summit County have been retuned to Diebold with various problems.
Budget constraints could prevent election results from being audited this year, Follett said, adding that she hasn’t decided whether to conduct hand counts.
"The auditors aren’t going to do it for free. Who’s going to pay for it?" Follett asked.
Dopp countered that each candidate on the ballot could submit names for election auditors.
"It’s just counting," Dopp said, adding that Summit County may only need to provide paper-roll advancers and a room to conduct the audit. "We tried to totally reduce the burden on the county officials."
Some states require automatic recounts, Diebold project manager Peter Lenhart said.
"It creates a lot of work, but if that’s required by law, or if that’s required because somebody challenges the election, do it," Lenhart said. "It’ll match."
But to effectively audit the June primary, Follett must begin soon, Dopp insists.
Depending on the costs to audit election results, Summit County Commissioner Sally Elliott says she might support the procedure.
"I have butterflies in my tummy always, external controls are a good thing," Elliott said in a telephone interview. "It’s always good to empower private citizens as participants in the process if we can find a way to [audit] effectively and inexpensively, then it might be a good thing to do."
Follett plans to demonstrate the voting machines today from 10 a.m. to noon at the Summit County Library in Coalville and from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Summit County Library in Kamas.
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Trailside Park will receive a 10-acre expansion after receiving a permit from county officials this week. The plan calls for two ballfields, two pavilions and 127 parking spots.