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Voters prefer paper ballots over screens

Machines shunned in 20 percent of precincts

Posted: Sunday, November 05, 2006

ANCHORAGE - Paper, please. State election officials say Alaska voters seem to prefer traditional paper ballots over touchscreen voting machines, which made a shaky debut in the Aug. 22 primary.

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In fact, in 20 percent of the precincts, not one voter used the machines in that election, according to the state Division of Elections.

The reasons could vary, officials said. Some may have been suspicious of the technology, not aware that voting by machine was an option or - in two cases - simply didn't have that choice.

The machines arrived damaged at two precincts and didn't work, according to the division. In others, they may have worked only part of the day.

Most Alaska voters used paper ballots that were then fed into machines that tabulated results, a trend likely to continue in the general election Tuesday.

Touchscreen machines are controversial around the country, with concerns over hackers, software bugs and human error.

Still, Alaska election officials and nationally generally defend voting machines as reliable and secure. One notes that paper ballots haven't been fraud-proof, either.

"You've read stories where the ballots were thrown into some river on the way from the polling place and never did reach their destination to be counted," said Donetta Davidson, commissioner with the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, an organization overseeing election administration.

"We had more fraud and more problems with the old-fashioned ballots than we will ever see with any of the new processes," she told the Anchorage Daily News.

In Alaska, the touchscreen machines produce a paper trail of every vote that can be compared to data stored on the computer memory card, she said.

However, the Alaska Democratic Party is urging voters not to use the touchscreen machines. Kay Brown, party spokeswoman, said one vulnerability is the wireless capability of Diebold Election Systems Inc. machines - the ones used in Alaska - that theoretically could allow someone with a hand-held device to hack in during an election.

Alaska election officials say the wireless capability will not be turned on.

Congress has demanded that states modernize antiquated voting systems after problems with punch cards and other old-school systems were exposed in the 2000 presidential election. It has injected $3 billion into new voting systems.



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