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New machines get vote of confidence amid low turnout

Elections for U.S. congressional seats drew few voters to thepolls Tuesday, but the new touch-screen voting machines being usedfor the first time received many votes of confidence.

The Democratic primaries were the first to use the newtouch-screen voting machines purchased by 77 of the state’s 82counties last year under a program sponsored by Secretary of StateEric Clark to promote unity and ensure more accuracy inMississippi’s voting process.

Election officials, however, worried the machines may intimidatesome voters, particularly the elderly. This morning, though,officials said the low voter turnout was more likely from voterapathy than fear of the machines.

“The precinct I was in, (voters) just walked in, put the card inand voted with no problem at all,” said Helen Funk, Lincoln CountyDemocratic Executive Committee chairwoman.

Lisa Chandler, a Copiah County circuit clerk, agreed theelection went well as a trial run for the new machines. She saidthere were very few problems, and those were minor.

“We had a few general things, such as a paper jam, but it wentreally well with the new machines,” she said. “I think they will goover really well.”

In the only race on the Lincoln and Lawrence County ballots,Tuesday’s primary was to determine which candidate will faceincumbent Republican Sen. Trent Lott and a Libertarian HowardTaylor in the general election Nov. 7.

Lincoln County voters reflected statewide trends, with stateRep. Erik Fleming garnering a slight majority of the local votes ina yawner of an election. He will face businessman Bill Bowlin in aJune 27 runoff for the right to be the Democratic nominee in thegeneral election.

Only 2 percent of county voters went to the polls Tuesday,according to vote totals.

Voter turnout in Lawrence County was slightly better, posting a5 percent turnout and also reflected statewide numbers.

Copiah County voters also cast ballots in the controversial racefor the U.S. Second Congressional District. The highly-touted andcompetitive congressional race drew 21 percent of the voters to thepolls in Copiah County.

Regarding the new machines, Lawrence County Circuit Clerk CindyStokes said the election proved to be “a very good trial run” andvoters appeared to understand how to work them.

Lincoln County Circuit Clerk Terry Lynn Watkins said things wentsmoothly, but it was a learning process for both poll workers andvoters. However, the new machines were a vast improvement in makingthe election process go more accurately and swiftly.

“Up until this election we used an optimal scanner. The ballotswere put into a shaker to loosen any debris and then had to be putin the same direction to feed into the scanner,” Watkins said. “Itwas time consuming.”

Voters were provided a memory card to place in the machine. Oncethe card was in the machine, the vote was cast and the card wasremoved and turned in. Poll managers then placed the cards in amachine, obtained the vote and cleared the card for the nextvoter.

Poll managers at each precinct were responsible for followingprocedures to keep results secure. Labels, seals, locks and tightsupervision kept the bags containing the memory cards secure.

“Each bag is sealed. We have to account for each seal and makesure the proper chain of custody was followed,” Watkins said.

Poll managers turned in all paperwork and sealed memory cards ina locked bag. Technicians were responsible for opening bags andretrieving memory cards.

Diebold Inc., the manufacturer of the new systems, providedtechnicians to be on site at many locations to assist with theprocess and provide technical support in the event of aproblem.

“It’s just like anything else, when you have a change it takesgetting used to,” Watkins said. “But when we learn the system itwill run smoother.”