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Technology fair takes look at improving voting process

March 29, 2001
A voting fair was held Wednesday at the Lansing Center, 333 E. Michigan Ave., in Lansing. Companies brought their new technology to educate people about different ways to cast votes. —

LANSING - With the November election debacle still a not-so-distant memory, Michigan election officials are thinking of ways to improve the state’s voting process.

Voting equipment vendors from across the nation gathered to show their systems to lawmakers and clerks at the Michigan Department of State Voting Technology Fair on Wednesday at the Lansing Center, 333 E. Michigan Ave.

“We’ve had several hundred people here,” said Chris Thomas, the director of elections for the state of Michigan. “All of the vendors have had the opportunity to make their pitch, it isn’t just a walk-through and take a look.”

County clerks like Don Thall attended the fair for a chance to use the voting devices.

“It is great because I get a chance to see all this stuff,” said Thall, who is Kalamazoo Township’s clerk. “This is actually hands-on.

“You can see it operating, you can play with the gadgets.”

Thall witnessed presentations from eight companies, which displayed optical scans, voting kiosks, an Internet system, several touch-screen systems and a precinct tabulator for punch cards.

“My big concern is for the elderly voters and making the systems simple and easy for them to use,” Thall said. “Some of the devices that use the optical scan are probably the most familiar. The younger voters probably wouldn’t have any problems with the touch screen.

“The Internet system is a new system still being developed. People probably aren’t ready for an Internet voting system for countywide or statewide election.”

Whether the Internet will drive Michigan’s elections in the future, Secretary of State Candice Miller, who kicked off the day of demonstrations, says the state should shift toward a uniform voting system.

Secretary of State’s Office spokeswoman Elizabeth Boyd said Miller will use information gathered at the fair as part of her report, which she plans to give to state lawmakers in April. The report will include recommendations on how the state will proceed toward a uniform system.

“The point that she has been making is that this is a good time to evaluate where we are with our voting systems in the state,” Boyd said.

Michigan has one of the most decentralized election systems in the country, with 5,376 precincts.

William Barrett, a representative from election system maker Fidlar Doubleday, said the state may face difficulty in implementing a universal voting system because of large number of precincts.

“If the secretary of state is saying that all election authorities in Michigan should buy the same exact voting system, I think it would be a great idea,” he said. “But, it would be hard to implement because all those jurisdictions are going to have their own ideas about what system works best for them.”

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