County to speed primary with computerized voting System will shorten lines

results will come quickly

March 04, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County's new computerized voting system will mean fewer lines and faster results in tomorrow's primary election.

The new Op-Tech III Eagle voting system, similar to those used in Anne Arundel, Howard, Harford and Carroll counties, will replace the 800-pound mechanical machines the county has used since the Korean War.

Baltimore County is the first jurisdiction to convert to the new system since a Maryland election task force report in January recommended the change statewide. The move leaves only six Maryland jurisdictions using the old machines, including two of the state's largest jurisdictions: Baltimore City and Prince George's County.

Baltimore City took 150 of the county's best mechanical machines, and the other 1,000 were sold for scrap to the Cambridge Iron and Metal Co. for $11,354.01, county officials said.

County election administrator Doris J. Suter said a mailing to all 387,000 registered county voters provides instructions about how to use the new system before tomorrow's primary.

Instead of pulling levers behind a curtain, voters will use a special ink pen to connect the point and tail of an arrow printed next to each candidate's name on a paper ballot. Ballots then are fed into a 42-pound electronic tabulating machine at each precinct.

Voting will be done at blue and white plastic stands that have side panels to provide secrecy. Voters will be handed blue paper covers to maintain secrecy.

If a voter makes a mistake on the ballot -- for instance, chooses too many convention delegates -- the machine will reject it. The voter then may mark a new ballot, or let the first ballot go, which will void the vote for that one office.

A voter who makes a mistake can request another ballot, and the incorrect ballot will be placed in an envelope with other spoiled ballots.

The best part for county election workers comes when the polls close. "It should take no more than 20 minutes after the last voter to get the results," clerk Anthony C. Butta said.

That means all results should be tabulated by 10 p.m., instead of the midnight to 2 a.m. finishes that have been routine.

The results will be fed into a computer at the election board's new Towson offices. The machine also will print results on paper. One copy and the ballots will go to headquarters, another will be posted at each precinct and a third will be mailed to election board offices as a security check.

One voting stand will be available for every 200 county voters, which should mean less waiting in lines, Mr. Butta said. Under the old system, each machine served an average of 400 voters.

The county is leasing the new system from the Dallas-based Business Records Corp., which is providing all the machines, including 18 spares, maintenance mechanics and storage. The cost is $2.4 million for seven years.

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