Wednesday, April 21


No chads to shade November election

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[APRIL 21, 2004]  Voting will never be the same as it was in days gone by in Logan County, nor anywhere else in the good old United States of America. The country so boastful of democracy and its great election system blanched and then grew increasingly red in the face as days passed when Florida miscounts kept the country waiting to declare a new president a few of years ago. The federal government has instituted Help America Vote Act in an attempt to eliminate the problems that caused the great election fiasco.     [click here for a view of the Illinois scan ballot and instructions]

Beginning this November polling places across the country will have gone over from potentially faulty punch card or lever systems to more reliable electronically read forms of ballot casting. County Clerk Sally Litterly understandingly stated that she doesn't really like change herself because it is hard, but she explained the change has come about because of new federal requirements.

Logan County voters will no longer use the punch system that has been in effect here for years. Rather they will be using what is called an optical scan machine. It is a system that is simple for voters to use and is something like the ACT or SAT tests, where you fill in the oval of your choice. Most people have seen or used a card like this at some time. The card is then read by the machine when the voter comes out and inserts it into the scan machine.

One of the positive features with this system is that it is expected to greatly reduce the number of unintended under- and over-votes that normally occur. If a voter has not made a choice for one of the offices or has made too many choices in offices where more than one candidate can be selected, the machine will show the voter the over-vote or the under-vote for that office. Voters can then go back and amend their choices if they choose to do so.

The use of this system also eliminates counting by hand. The machine automatically does all the counting instantly.

Cutting costs

To assist in the changeover the federal government is buying out the old systems at $3,192 per polling place. The new scan machines cost $4,500 each, leaving a difference of $1,308 to be covered by the county.

Currently townships are subdivided into precincts, each with its own polling place in Logan County. In many places the distances between polling places are quite short. Just one optical scan machine is capable of servicing four precincts in one polling place. Because the machines carry a large cost and the smallest of the areas has as few as 38 voters come out for an election, Litterly said she went to the townships and they put their heads together to figure out what was best for the voters of Logan County.

Several of the smaller townships have agreed to consolidate their precincts. "We don't have horse and buggy anymore, and it's not like we have to go a long way -- we might just have to drive five blocks to the next polling place," Litterly said.


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The following townships agreed to consolidate:

East Lincoln with 12 precincts will have five polling places.

West Lincoln with 10 precincts will reduce to five polling places.

Atlanta's three precincts will consolidate to one polling place.

Mount Pulaski will combine four precincts in one polling location.

Thought is still being given to whether to ask Cornland to go to Elkhart for a combined polling place. That is a 10-mile drive between locations and is the longest distance under consideration.

The consolidations have saved the county over $70,000 on the machines alone.

There will still be the same number of election judges, five per precinct, and everything else stays the same.

The state board of elections is supplying $140,448 for the Logan County system buyout. The total cost for the changeover will be $149,400. The county will need to pony up the additional $9,000 needed. But that isn't a big concern because that cost will fall in the next fiscal year budget, Litterly said.

Voters will be prepared for the changes well in advance. Letters will go to every voter explaining the change, and an actual sample ballot will be included.

Voters affected by precinct changes will get an additional letter explaining where they will go to vote. Some of those decisions have not yet been confirmed by the townships.

Scan vs. touch

Litterly said she chose the optical scan for several advantages it offers. The other type of voting machine to choose from was a touch screen.

1. The optical scan is less expensive.

2. The touch screen handles only one booth. The optical scan can handle up to four voting booths, thereby saving voters time waiting in line.

3. The touch screen uses a printer to print out every ballot; it thereby requires a printer that could have something go wrong during election hours. The optical scan does not use a printer.

[Jan Youngquist]

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