Alameda County Successfully Uses Electronic Voting

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Alameda County voters cast their ballots electronically for the first time yesterday, mirroring a trend that is changing the way the nation votes.

The touch-screen ballots make Alameda County the third county in California to convert to the new system, following Riverside and Plumas Counties.

More counties will likely convert to electronic ballots in coming elections.

"Electronic will probably be the most used system in a short while," said Kim Brace, president of Election Data Services. "But that is assuming that the electronics hold up under scrutiny."

Five hundred ten counties across the United States-16 percent of the nation's counties-used electronic voting systems yesterday, up from 293 counties on Election Day 2000, according to Brace.

The system experienced no problems in Alameda County yesterday that could not be "troubleshooted," said Elaine Ginnold, assistant registrar of voters for Alameda County.

"Because it is new and unfamiliar, there are certain questions that people might have," she said.

Ginnold added that the "vast majority" of the polling places were open on time at 7 a.m., with all locations operating smoothly.

The sharp rise in the use of electronic ballots may have resulted from the 2000 presidential election debacle.

"It's a trend because of all the attention our election system has received in 2000," said UC Berkeley political science graduate student Megan Mullin.

The electronic system may be able to eliminate the confusion in future elections.

"When you're using a paper product you can run out of it," said Bud Travers, assistant to the vice chancellor of resource development. "When you're using an electronic process, by definition you can't run out."

The untested nature of the system has raised some concerns.

"They are being used right now in live voting, but they are really in a testing phase," said Saskia Mills, executive director of the California Voter Foundation. "You don't really know if there is a problem."

Without a hard copy of each ballot, some have raised questions about the logistics of a recount.

"We are hoping for a touch screen that has a voter-verified paper trail," Mills said. "In other words, the voter looks at the piece of paper, verifies that their votes were recorded correctly and then drops it into a box, or it gets fed back into the machine, just as a backup."

She added that the paper receipts could be useful in the event of a computer failure.

The novelty of the system didn't seem to bother voters in Berkeley. Others pointed to the clarity of the new system.

"It wasn't at all confusing," said UC Berkeley senior Tony Falcone, ASUC vice president of academic affairs. "It was definitely a more pleasant experience than punching holes."

Earlier fears that the new system would be difficult for elderly voters may be unfounded.

"It's easy, it's fast, and your vote will be counted," said 88-year-old Berkeley resident Harry Kendall. "Even my wife could use it, and she doesn't know anything about computers."


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