Clark Stumps For Computerized Voting System

Buck Jones stood in front of Harrison County supervisors and explained how future elections could operate.

"When someone comes into a polling place, they'll still go up to a registration," the Diebold representative said.

But instead of signing a book, voters receive an electronic card. That card activates a computerized ballot. The list of races and candidates pops up on the screen. Voters simply touch the names that they want.

Mississippi Secretary of State Eric Clark spent almost two hours pitching the Diebold election system to Harrison County supervisors.

"This is a great deal for the state. And I hope every county will opt in," he said.

Clark emphasized that counties would have no up front costs. The federal government and the state would pay $15 million to buy the touch screens and install the system.

Clark reminded supervisors that Diebold developed many of the ATM machines used around Mississippi.

"If they can keep up with our money, they can keep up with our votes."

Harrison County bought the voting machines it currently uses in 1999. Since then, a combination of paper ballots and optic scanners have greatly reduced the number of voting irregularities. That could be why circuit clerk Gayle Parker seemed lukewarm to changing the voting system.

"Well, it's going to cost the county more money," she emphasized.

Possibly as much as $300,000.

Harrison County found out it would receive 257 touch screens from the state. County voting precincts currently use 370 voting booths. So, the county would spend $300,000 to buy additional touch screens, so voters don't have to wait in long lines.

Parker thinks that's a waste of money because "we know what we have works."

California was supposed to use a similar Diebold touch screen voting system. But during a recent test, several computer screens froze, and paper jammed in the touch screen printer. So California rejected the Diebold machines, and started a new search for a system that meets federal voting guidelines.

Diebold's Buck Jones talked about the California situation when he spoke to Harrison County supervisors. He said there were differences between what it's proposing for the state of Mississippi and what it's doing out in California.

"I agree inconveniencing anybody would be unacceptable," he admitted. "So we're going to work real hard assuring as few people are inconvenienced as possible."

Secretary of State Clark is still sold on the Diebold system.

"They're good machines. They're secure. We're getting them at a great price," he said. "And that's a big advantage to all the counties being in the same voting machines, on the same page. And so that's what I'm encouraging the supervisors and officials in Harrison County to do."

Supervisors have not decided whether to log onto the state's touch screen system.

The Help America Vote Act was adopted as a solution to the hanging chad controversy in the 2000 presidential election.