Oklahoma voters will have to learn how to fill in boxes instead of connect lines for the 2012 elections. Otherwise, said state Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax, most won’t notice much difference from other elections over the past two decades.
There will be a difference, though, and a big one. The state will soon begin taking delivery on a new voting system to replace the OPTECH-III Eagle optical scanner machines in use since 1992. Ziriax expects the system to be fully tested and installed in time for the February 2012 school board elections.
“It’s my belief that most people won’t notice a difference,” said Ziriax. “Voters will still be marking their ballots by hand and they’ll still be putting them into a scanner. “The main difference will be that instead of connecting two ends of an arrow, there will be a box to fill in. And the ballots will be a little lighter weight stock.”
Unlike the current machines, the new ones will be accessible to blind voters who now have to cast their ballots by telephone. The new machines include a component for audio voting.
Oklahoma was the first state in the nation with the same machines in every precinct when the OPTECH system was installed nearly 20 years ago. The OPTECH machines were so popular – and, by all accounts, reliable – that the state waited until now to replace them even though federal funds have been available to do so for years.
Ziriax said the OPTECH machines have long outlived their expected usefulness. In recent elections, poll workers began having trouble with the units’ “memory packs” – which, perhaps fittingly, resembles an eight-track tape cassette.
“There are (machines) that are no longer in production,” said Ziriax. “The parts are no longer in production. The software can’t be upgraded. If we were to continue with them, my concern is that we would have an ever-increased risk of major failure.”
Through much of the past decade, stories of new voting machines run amok have been fairly common. For awhile, the trend was toward touchscreen systems similar to ATMs.
Now it is back toward the more reliable optical scanners, which have the advantage of using paper ballots that can be compared to electronic tallies.
Which is why, Ziriax said, Oklahoma is sticking with that technology.
The state is spending $16.6 million for 2,800 Hart Intercivic eScan A/T Paper-Based Digital Ballot Scanners. The machines were bought with federal funds distributed to the states to update their voting systems after the 2000 “hanging chads” presidential election. “We’re very excited because we’re keeping the best of what we had and making it better.”
A 2010 report by New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice found relatively few problems with the Hart Intercivic eScan. Most appeared to be isolated incidents related to faulty programming.