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Voters need not wait till Nov. 7

By Josh Parr Daily Planet Staff
Saturday October 07, 2000

Don’t want to wait until Nov. 7 to cast your vote? Try Tuesday. That’s when “Convenience voting” comes to the city. 

Between Oct. 10 and Nov. 3, residents will be able to cast ballots from five electronic voting machines located at the City Clerk’s Office, at 1900 Addison St. 

They call it “in- person absentee balloting” and voters will be given the choice of casting their vote in one of three languages – English, Spanish or Chinese. 

“It’s time to get new machines,” said Bradley Clark, Alameda County Registrar of Voters, in Berkeley Friday to tout the new system. “California is the last state in the nation to replace its punch card ballots. These machines are over 35 years old, getting parts for them is impossible, and the new technology works, so why not use it?” he asked. 

Clark purchased 50 “touch screen voting technology” units at $3,300 dollars a pop and scattered them across Alameda County. 

“The ultimate goal is to add these machines to all polling places in Alameda County,” Clark said, adding that this would require the total purchase of 3,500 to 4,000 machines. Such a plan would slowly wean voters for their habit of paper ballots to the point that only a few ballots would be needed for elections. 

“It means we don’t have to cut down a forest just to have an election,” quipped Clark. “If they’re prepared, and know what they want to vote already, they can simply come to these voting booths, toggle their vote in and then cast their ballot.” 

To vote electronically, voters need only go to the clerk’s office, pick up an application to vote, receive a “smart card,” go to the PC’s linked up to the County server, insert the card and tally their vote. The machine would not note the voter’s name, so the ballot remains anonymous. 

Instead of dropping the ballot through a slot though, votes are tabulated on a hard drive and diskette. This diskette would be removed from the machine, and brought to a central computer in the Alameda county courthouse, where the vote would be tallied. 

Having more than one source for such numbers, says Clark, insures that there is security.  

“If one source gets lost for whatever reason, we have another. And if one comes up with a discrepancy, we can check it from another source.” 

If there is a power outage, the machines can save their data, using a backup battery. 

“This is also a great way for political analysts to look at absentee balloting,” said Clark.  

Such electronic voting began in Alameda County last year, when Piedmont ran a trial election using the system. That paved the way for the in-person-absentee voting machines, which could lead to the county-wide electronic voting that Clark envisions. 

The City Clerk’s Office is located at 1900 Addison Street, and is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. during which hours voters can access such machines.