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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

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7/30/2008 10:09:00 PM
Voting machines get final tune-up before primary
Jo. L. Keener/The Daily Courier
Jimmie Jo Hlavin, warehouse technician with the Yavapai County Election Department, checks out one of the touch-screen voting machines designed for persons with disabilities Tuesday morning.
Jo. L. Keener/The Daily Courier

Jimmie Jo Hlavin, warehouse technician with the Yavapai County Election Department, checks out one of the touch-screen voting machines designed for persons with disabilities Tuesday morning.

PRESCOTT - With the precision of a NASA engineer, Yavapai County Elections Director Lynn Constabile and her staff are giving logic and accuracy tests to voting machines in preparation for the upcoming primary elections Sept. 2.

"It is very complicated and a lot is involved in getting ready for one day of voting," she said.

The elections Department keeps voting machines and related paraphernalia in a non-descript warehouse in Prescott. Inside the warehouse, workers resemble scientists preparing for a space launch - they hunker over worktables peering, testing, checking and validating each machine.

"We are testing the optical

scans for accuracy, making sure we've got the right modem for the polling place, making sure the paper ballots go through correctly, and then we are doing a paper-count comparison of test ballots to make sure they are being counted correctly," Jimmie Jo Hlavin said. Hlavin oversees the testing and packing procedures.

"It is quite a process," Hlavin said.

Testing includes feeding test ballots - clearly stamped "Test" - upside down and backwards into voting machines. The machines should accept the ballots.

Voting machines should reject unmarked or over-voted test ballots. An LCD on the machine explains why it rejected the ballot.

On Election Day, county voters have a choice of two voting machines - an AccuVote optical scan or a TSX touch-screen for voters with disabilities.

In days past, poll workers dropped ballots into burlap sacks and carried them by automobile or horseback to the elections office.

Today, no human hands other than the voter or poll worker's touch the ballots until they arrive at the elections office in Prescott.

Completed ballots are dropped into a 25-cubic-foot locked ballot box that elections staff dubbed the "big black box." Poll inspectors lock the box, wire the lock and clamp the wire with a numbered seal.

Poll inspectors send vote totals to the elections office via electronic modem before workers deliver the black boxes.

"Each machine has a modem and each modem is assigned to a precinct, and the modem is downloaded to Fair Street after the poll closes," explained Hlavin. "Then, when the ballot box is opened, the ticker tape total inside the machine is compared to the modem's total."

It's all about checks and balances, Constabile said.

More than a dozen county staff and temporary workers are testing the voting machines and components. After a voting machine passes its tests, workers tag, bag and seal its components before locking the machines in boxes.

Yavapai County has 112

voting precincts and 95 polling places. The voting apparatus is based on portability and mobility.

"We set up one AccuVote and one touch-screen machine in each polling place," Constabile said. "We set up about 700 voting booths."

Voting booths, like the voting machines, are portable. The booths fold into a metal carrying case about the size of a large brief case. Each booth has its own electric light.

About 17 troubleshooters work Election Day. Pat and Terry Lewis have been troubleshooting election days for a few years.

"We are helping to test the machines this week, and on Election Day we help at different precincts with whatever needs to be done," Pat said.

By law, voters get three, and only three, chances to fill in their ballots correctly, Constabile said. After that it is "strike three and you're out," as one worker put it.

Contact the reporter at bcolbert@prescottaz.com

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Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, July 31, 2008
Article comment by: W. Lee Radu

So ALL of our Voting machines, even the electronic touch screen machines (Diebold & any others used), have a paper trail verifiable, individual ballot produced, documenting ever vote too? Hard to believe that Yavapai County would be current or even ahead of the rest of the Nation's status for Electronic Voting Machine, paper ballot verification for recounts.

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