By JENNIFER LEARN-ANDES
Sunday, July 17, 2005 Page: 3A
WILKES-BARRE – Luzerne County residents can sample and critique electronic voting machines that might be purchased here during an all-day expo in the courthouse rotunda tomorrow.
Roughly a dozen models from seven companies will be set up at the expo, which runs from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. County officials hope to attract voters of all ages and backgrounds and especially encourage people with disabilities to try the machines, which are equipped with special devices for voters who are in wheelchairs or who can’t see or hear.
Models range from large, heavy machines that must be wheeled in, to light laptop ones that can be carried in a briefcase.
Each has some type of touch screen. Some show the entire ballot at one time and others require users to scroll through electronic “pages,” kind of like an ATM machine.
The county’s 1930s-era machines will become obsolete after November’s general election because the county must switch to electronic machines in 2006, county officials say.
Leonard Piazza, head of the county’s election bureau, said public feedback will somehow be informally collected to help the county’s electronic voting machine panel in its selection.
He plans to set up one of the county’s lever machines for people to make a non-binding vote for their top pick. Election bureau employees also will be on hand to collect feedback, he said.
If the county goes with a full-faced machine that shows the entire ballot at one time, it will need to buy about the same number it has now, 550 to 600 machines, Piazza said.
The full-faced machines sell for roughly $7,500 each, which equates to roughly $4.1 million to $4.5 million.
The county would need about three times as many touch-screen machines because it takes more time for voters to scroll through pages, Piazza said. The touch-screens typically sell for $3,500 each, bringing the estimated tab to $5.8 million to $6.3 million.
The state might buy the machines in bulk from the vendors, then allow counties to buy them at lower state contract pricing. That would shave about $1,000 off the touch-screen machines and $2,000 from the full-faced.
The county is set to receive about $3 million in federal grants toward the project, Piazza said. He doesn’t know if the county will receive any additional outside funding.
The county’s electronic voting machine panel will consider the public input as it recommends one or two machines that should be purchased.
“We’re buying these machines for the community, and we’d like to get their input on this. We’ve tried to make it a very public process from the start,” Piazza said.
The public is urged to sample prospective electronic voting machines from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. tomorrow in the rotunda of the Luzerne County Courthouse, River Street, Wilkes-Barre.