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Candidates, officials place faith in optical-scan vote machines

Posted: Sunday, October 17, 2004

Although the 2002 presidential election recount in Florida turned into a brouhaha, Alaska voters don't need to worry about the accuracy of the state's voting machines, candidates and election officials predict.

They place their faith in the AccuVote-Optical Scan, which also was used in this month's Juneau municipal elections. Problems associated with that count were determined to be from human error.

"It's been very accurate and durable," Region I election supervisor Pam Crowe said of the machine. She supervises election workers in Southeast Alaska, Cordova, Kodiak, the Kenai Peninsula and western Cook Inlet.

Alaska replaced its punch card tabulation system with the AccuVote-Optical Scan system in 1998.

With the optical scanning system, voters pick up only one ballot at their polling places and fill in ovals next to the names of candidates or ballot measures. Voters then insert the ballot into an AccuVote machine - a small computer that looks like a fax machine.

The machine scans the ballot, tabulates the results and deposits the ballot in a box below. When the polls close at 8 p.m., precinct workers transmit results by modem to a central accumulation site.

More than 90 percent of Alaska's voters use AccuVote-Optical Scan machines. About 65 percent of the state's 439 precincts are equipped with the machine.

Cities like Juneau borrow the machines from the state for their municipal elections.

A recount in a District 32 election in 2002 showed the machine's reliability, officials say.

Nonpartisan Pat Abney asked for a recount when her opponent, Republican candidate Mike Hawker, beat her by 37 votes after the election on Nov. 5, 2002. In the second tally, Hawker led by 36 votes.

Errors do happen but they tend to be human errors, Crowe said.

In Juneau's most recent election, election workers found that the election workers' count of ballots was different from a machine's count. Workers reinserted ballots into the voting machine when there was a paper jam. This caused the machine to calculate the same ballot twice.

"The election workers have to be very conscientious with their use of the machine," said City Clerk Laurie Sica.

Two candidates who lived through a recount have confidence in the AccuVote machine.

In the 2003 local election, School Board candidate Bill Peters lost the race to Alan Schorr by one vote. Peters' supporters asked for a recount. A recount found Schorr beat Peters by four votes.

"I don't have any reason to doubt the accuracy," said Peters, who finally became a School Board member this year in his second bid. "Laurie Sica and her crew worked very hard."

• I-Chun Che can be reached at ichun.che@juneauempire.com.



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