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November 21, 2012
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County moves toward more 'low-tech' voting methods

If you voted earlier this month, you may have noticed a lack of scanners to tally your ballot at the polling place.

That's because El Dorado County shifted away from the precinct-count voting system to a central-count voting system in January 2011. Transporting the scanners, which read marked paper ballots and tallied the results, to each polling place was difficult and expensive, County Registrar of Voters Bill Schultz said.

The scanners memory card tabulated the ballots, which would be secured with an electronic seal that couldn't be broken until the ballots arrived at the county office. There the cards from each of the precincts would be updated electronically to a computer. Election officials then switched the software that counted paper mail-in ballots with the program needed for the cards. The whole process was inefficient and time-consuming, Schultz said.

And though he thinks the technology will one day catch up to voting needs, the machines in the county aren't at that level yet.

"Everyone seems to like paper and to trust it. My personal view is that somebody is going to come up with a different method, and I think that it will be electronic," he said.

Instead of tabulating votes at each precinct, the ballots arrive in Placerville, ready to be counted. The only potential drawback to the system that California Voter Foundation President Kim Alexander foresees is the potential for voter error to go unnoticed until it's too late. When votes are scanned in the precinct, a red flag will goes up immediately if the voter makes a mistake. That error can then be corrected at the polling place.

According to the California Voter Foundation's website - a nonprofit to advance the responsible use of technology in the voting process - many of the smaller counties have implemented a centralized counting system in the past few years. For El Dorado County, where voters cast about 87,000 cards for the Nov. 6 election, transporting the ballots to a central location makes sense.

In larger counties like Los Angeles, where almost 3 million voters cast ballots, having scanners begin the counting process at the precincts might be the more efficient method, Alexander said.

The number of counties using paper ballots in California has grown significantly in the past few years. In 2006, 21 counties relied on electronic ballots. By 2009, that number had dropped to two, according to California Voter Foundation data.

"There's a desire to keep the voting process more low-tech in California," Alexander said.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Nov 21, 2012 07:42PM Published Nov 21, 2012 07:41PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.