E-Balloting in Utah Stalled for Two Years

E-Balloting in Utah Stalled for Two Years

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Election officials have stopped plans to have voters cast ballots electronically, saying delays in replacing the traditional punch cards will put off the switch for at least two years.

The state is behind schedule with its plan to replace the cards with some other type of voting device, such as touch-screen terminals. Originally, at least one machine would have appeared in each precinct across the state this November, but a state committee charged with purchasing the terminals has yet to be chosen.

"The more time goes by, the more it gets backed up," state Elections Director Amy Naccarato said Tuesday.

Some county leaders aren't bothered by the delay.

"I want to see who's standing after the smoke clears," said Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen, noting that Utah should wait to how other state fare after replacing punch cards.

The Help America Vote Act, signed into law in October 2002, offers federal money to replace punch-card machines, which are used in 23 of Utah's 29 counties. The remaining counties use either paper or optical-scan ballots.

Congress has allocated some money to finance the new law, and Utah could get about $28 million. Officials plan to spend $20.5 million to purchase machines for the state's 1,800 precincts. The rest would go for machine maintenance, purchasing additional equipment, a voter pamphlet, a statewide voter-registration database and a voter-outreach program.

But questions have been raised about the accuracy of the devices, and some clerks question whether there will be enough machines for each precinct to avoid long lines.

"Why trade one imperfect system for another imperfect system?" said Salt Lake County Councilman David Wilde.

Naccarato says the new state committee should be chosen by the end of the month. The panel would then decide on the qualifications for the system Utah should buy, and bidding would start on the state's contract.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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