Foes trade snipes during voting test
May 10, 2006
Summit County Clerk Sue Follett’s Monday morning City Hall demonstration of the county’s new electronic-voting machines seemed to be going swimmingly.
And then Kathy Dopp, the persistent critic of the incumbent clerk, arrived, sniping at the Diebold Election Systems machines that Statehouse leaders picked to run Utah elections starting this year.
The two women, in earshot of the Building Department’s busy front desk, the Police Department and the business-licensing counter, continued their months-long feud about the machines from the Allen, Texas, company with terse statements and retorts shooting between them.
Follett, the outgoing incumbent, and Dopp, the impassioned advocate and third-party clerk candidate, whose message seems to be largely ignored by regular Parkites, went back and forth with their comments, most unrecognizable from a few feet away. But their barbs illustrate why the November county clerk election, normally a pedestrian affair, has turned into one of the premier contests on the ballot.
The debate about the machines has dominated the early part of the campaign season in the clerk’s race and is expected to be the pivotal issue through November. As the June 27 primaries approach, the machines will become more prominent as voters learn how to use the system and the candidates continue to talk about them. The machines are expected to make their local election debut for the primaries.
Cindy LoPiccolo, the senior city recorder for Park City, faces Kent Jones, who was Follett’s predecessor in the clerk’s office and who was previously a Republican, in the June Democratic primary. The LoPiccolo-Jones winner takes on Dopp. No Republican is seeking the clerk’s office. Follett did not garner the votes in the April 19 Summit County Democratic Party convention to earn a spot on the primary ballot.
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The Monday demonstration was the seventh such event and Follett plans to hold at least three each week around Summit County starting in late May through the primary. Seventeen people tested the machines on Monday, Follett said, and about 200 people had tried them in other locations previously.
"I haven’t had a single problem out and about," she said.
LoPiccolo did not attend the Monday test, Follett said.
The machines are touch-screen voting boxes that intrigued the people who stopped to try them, choosing from founding fathers like George Washington and Alexander Hamilton in the mock vote.
Dopp, who is running for the clerk’s office as a member of the outsider Desert Green Party, was especially aggressive on Monday. She went after Follett and, seeing that a few passers-by were interested in the machines, tried to turn them against the Diebold systems. Lobbying one floor up from the demonstration, Dopp briefly cornered Mayor Dana Williams.
"I care about democracy. They’re throwing democracy away with these machines," Dopp said in an interview.
She handed out fliers on Monday calling the machines a "major national security risk."
The machines do not resemble the county’s abandoned punch-card voting system, presenting a sleek, interactive ballot to the voters. When a registered voter shows up at the polls, they will be given cards containing a microchip to put into the machine. People with trouble seeing the ballot can choose screens with large text and they can adjust the contrast.
When they start to vote, people can first choose a straight-party ticket. If they want to pick contest by contest, voters use their finger to choose a candidate. If the wrong candidate is accidentally picked, the voters can touch the name again to rescind that choice and pick another person on the ballot.
After voters are finished, a page is displayed with all their choices, a receipt is printed showing what candidates they picked and the voters are given the chance to accept or reject their ballot. Voters may reject their ballot three times, Follett said, but the person will not receive a fourth chance.
When a voter is satisfied, the receipt scrolls into the machine. Follett said the receipts are used if an audit is needed, not to count the votes.
Diebold, which also manufactures ATMs, promises on its World Wide Web site that its machines offer "industry leading security," that it employs a system that stands alone, meaning it is not connected to the Internet, that it "blocks hacking tools" and that it uses an encryption system.
Previously, the county used what was becoming an antiquated voting system of punch cards. People would use small instruments to poke a hole through the ballot beside the candidate they wanted. The ballots were then loaded into a vote-counting machine that, until a newer one was purchased, would sometimes break down, leading to long hours of counting ballots after the polls closed.
Bob Rosenthal happened upon the demonstration while he was at City Hall for other business and tried the machines. He said they were fine.
"It works well. It’s easy to use. I’m still half asleep," Rosenthal said, as Dopp approached him with her argument against the machines. "I’m so used to using computers, I don’t have any issues with that."
There has been widespread criticism in the nation regarding the Diebold machines, especially from the political left, much of it echoing Dopp’s concerns. The critics are worried that the Diebold machines will somehow favor Republican candidates.
People on Dopp’s side are fearful that election operatives can tamper with the machines, sending votes to their candidates. They worry that there is not enough evidence left over after a vote for a proper audit.
"One can only conclude from the design of the machines they are specifically designed for insiders of Diebold to rig elections," Dopp said, predicting that "very right wing Republicans" will benefit.
Summit County received 138 machines through federal grants and bought another 15 at $2,800 each, Follett said. They will be deployed throughout the county’s traditional polling places for the primary and the November general election.
Follett said five workers, whom she describes as upstanding people, will have keys to the internal workings of the machines — three in the Summit County elections office and two county information-technology workers.
"You would have to have someone from the inside to do something," she said about the chances of voting fraud.
David Chaplin, a Park City School Board member who tried the machines, said he liked the option of the larger text but admitted he had misgivings about the accuracy of Diebold tabulations in state and national campaigns once the polls close.
"I’m not concerned about the machines conducting the fraud," Chaplin said. "I’m concerned about what happens when Election Day ends."