Sec. Of State, Party Leaders Weigh In On Touch Screen Voting

Mississippi Secretary of State Eric Clark believes Harrison County used flawed information to make its decision to dump the touch screen voting system. As WLOX News first reported on Monday, the Harrison County Board of Supervisors voted to go back to the scan system at the suggestion of the circuit clerk.

In a detailed three page letter, Clark told supervisor they should base their decision on "sound facts and logic, not on fear and falsehoods."

He also spelled out the problems he sees in their decision. Clark says the board was given cost estimates that are wrong. He also says there is a reliable paper-back up.

Since the touch screens was implemented to comply with federal mandate, the U.S. Justice Department would have to approve going back to the old system. Clark says that could take 60 days. Clark says that should be considered whenever there is a change in the voting system.

The Harrison County Democratic Executive Committee wants to keep the touch screens and plans to ask supervisors to change their minds. The party's newsletter says switching would be a "giant step backwards." However, Harrison County Republicans see things differently.

Harrison County's Democratic chairman went to Monday's supervisors meeting to talk about funding for the upcoming primary elections. Harry Ferguson says he was surprised when the conversation turned to voting machines.

"I was there with a particular item on the agenda," said Ferguson. "Frankly didn't want to disturb the order of the board meeting."

Ferguson didn't protest at the meeting, but is speaking out now. He says the supervisors' rush decision to do away with touch screens puts his party in a difficult situation.

Our first concern in preparing for the upcoming Democratic Primary, which is August 7th, but in fact has to be prepared 45 days prior to that, which gives us about a 30 day window here. We'll need to decide how to train our poll managers. As it stands now with this uncertainty, we have to train them in a paper ballot, because there could always be machine failures. The DRE machines, that are as of now the environment they'll be working in, as well as the operation of machines that we don't even have in the county right now. They haven't been purchased."

Because the purchase must go through a bidding process, Ferguson worries about how long it will take to get the new scanners in. He also says Harrison County Democrats believe better training for poll workers would solve most problems with the touch screens.

"There were county wide difficulties and in every case, or in almost every case I should say to be fair, the problem came down to what it seemed to me to be inadequate training of our poll managers," said Ferguson.

Republican Committee Chairman George Birdrow is thrilled to go back to scanners.

Birdrow said, "The poll workers are very intimidated by the touch screen system. We had some real problems last time with the printers and the process of having to program the machine to close out at night. The process of voting the absentee ballots is better with the scanners as opposed to the touch screen system."

Birdrow says Republicans expect a large voter turnout this election year and don't need touch screen headaches. He worries that tabulating touch screen votes will again go into the wee hours of the morning, which will mean voters will have to wait longer for results.

"We've given it a fair shot," said Birdrow. "We used the touch screen system in the last election. There were some problems, maybe they've been fixed. But when we look at the system we've been using for a long time versus the one we used in the last election, we have no doubt that this is a more efficient way to conduct the election."

District 3 Supervisor Marlin Ladner told WLOX News he had every confidence in Circuit Clerk Gayle Parker and that the information she gave was correct. He says he personally experienced some of the touch screen voting problems.