Old voting machines may get the ax -- thanks to computers Balto. Co. eyes counting votes by computer.

May 10, 1991|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Evening Sun Staff

The huge steel voting machines used by Baltimore County voters since paper ballots were abandoned after World War II may be headed for the scrap heap.

County election officials are thinking about switching to a computerized tabulation system for the March 1992 presidential primary. They believe the computerized system would save hours in counting votes, storage space and moving and maintenance costs.

At least five counties in Maryland, including Anne Arundel and Howard, already have converted to computerized ballot systems, said Marvin Meyn, deputy administrator of the state election board.

Also, Baltimore used a computerized system successfully to count absentee ballots in the 1990 elections, but plans no expansion beyond that, city administrator Barbara Jackson said. She said she's satisfied to keep the old mechanical machines.

Computerized voting is growing nationally, from less than 1 percent of the vote in the 1984 national elections to an expected 8 to 9 percent in 1992, said Todd Urosevich, an executive with American Information Systems of Omaha, Neb., the maker of the system Baltimore County is considering.

Under the system the county is considering, a voter would darken oval spaces on a ballot in a curtained booth, then drop the ballots into a sealed box. No tabulation would be done at the polling places, eliminating possible mistakes by judges. Indeed, fewer judges would be needed, said Doris Suter, county elections administrator.

The ballots would be taken to election board headquarters and tabulated by seven computerized machines that would quickly scan the ballot cards, recording the results by precinct, district and every other way imaginable, perhaps two hours faster than under the current system.

Suter, who has resisted the move toward computerized voting, said she's enthusiastic about the AIS system.

Suter said that if the state certifies the system in the next several weeks, and County Executive Roger B. Hayden approves it, Baltimore County could proceed with renting the equipment for seven years, then own it.

The yearly $112,636 annual rental cost would be offset by savings in election years of $32,000 for moving voting machines, $32,000 for programming them to accept the ballots and other savings in the need for fewer election judges and machine-storage space.

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