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County Oks optical scan machines
Clerk: Greatest challenge will be training workers before '06 election

Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman

Cook County likely will replace the punch card ballots used for years by all suburban county voters.

The board's finance committee voted unanimously on Tuesday to spend $24 million in federal grant money on optical scan machines and at least one touch-screen machine for each of the 2,402 suburban precincts. The Chicago board of elections has chosen identical equipment.

As the entire county board sits on the finance committee, commissioners are expected to approve the deal at their regular meeting next week.

Commissioners spent about two hours questioning County Clerk David Orr and the president of the company supplying the machines, Sequoia Voting Systems

"I was much more concerned before this meeting, I'm less concerned now," said Commissioner Peter Silvestri (R-Elmwood Park), who sent Orr a letter with 22 concerns. "I'm just worried about how you're going to train 25,000 election judges in that amount of time."

Orr agreed his greatest challenge will be training election judges to operate the equipment before the election in March 2006.

"The federal government was slow in setting some of this stuff up," Orr said. "I would rather be talking to you about this a year and a half out from the election. ... We can do it."

There were also questions about Sequoia Voting Systems' current ownership. Although run out of California, the company recently was purchased by a Dutch firm with Venezuelan investors, officials said. Several commissioners referred to anonymous e-mails suggesting problems with the foreign ownership.

Orr defended the company.

"I know there's a lot of misinformation going around," Orr said.

Company president Tracey Graham said the company has a flawless record.

"Our reputation means everything," Graham said.

With the system chosen Tuesday, voters using the optical scan ballots will use a pencil to fill in a small circle next to the name of their chosen candidate, similar to a standardized test. Voters will enter their ballots into a scanner, which will give them a chance to correct any errors, such as voting for too many candidates in a single race.

Senior citizens and voters with disabilities will be invited to use the touch-screen system, which works like an automatic teller machine. Each race will appear on the screen individually, and voters will be asked to touch the name of the person they want.

The computer screens can be asked to display instructions in almost any language, Orr said. The paper optical scan ballots will be printed in English, Spanish and Chinese.

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