Lawmakers Debate Value Of Optical Scan Machines

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(Host) The number of towns in Vermont that use optical scan vote tabulating machines would increase under a bill approved by the House.

The legislation would require all communities that have more than 1000 voters to use these machines beginning in the 2014 elections. Roughly 25 towns would be affected by the new requirement.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) To many members of the House Government Operations committee this is a straight forward common sense bill that helps preserve the integrity of the voting process. 

Milton Rep. Ronald Hubert told his colleagues that the legislation is needed because, in towns that hand count votes, it’s not always easy to determine the intention of the voter.

(Hubert) "We came up with a bill to help correct and smooth out some of those things that possibly can take place and put in question our most sacred right as a member of this country and that is the vote and make sure that your vote is counted, every vote is counted correctly and that every vote does count in the manner that’s supposed to be."

(Kinzel) Hubert says federal election funds will pay most of the cost of purchasing the optical scan machines and he says the machines are much more accurate than the traditional hand count methods:

(Hubert) "History has proven that vote tabulators have an error rate of about 1 vote per 1000 ballots read, the history that we have received from the Secretary of State shows that hand counting can have errors in the same range from 10 votes to 40 votes per thousand votes. This is a range that can put in question people’s reliability on the people that may or may not be elected."

(Kinzel) Charlotte Rep. Michael Yantachko tried to amend the bill to allow towns to opt out this requirement. 

Charlotte has roughly 2,700 registered voters and is the largest community in the state to count ballots by hand. He says the town likes it that way.

(Yantachka) "Process is often as important as results especially when it comes to community spirit and tradition it is true that in this age of technology we have become used to instantaneous results and can become impatient when things take a little longer but it does not mean we have to throw out something of value to a community simply for the sake of expediency."

(Kinzel) The amendment was defeated by more than a 10 to 1 margin.  The measure will now come for final approval in the House on Thursday – it’s not certain if the Senate will have time to consider the bill this year.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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