State elects to lease new voting machines
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The state is looking for a new way to count votes.
Election officials are preparing to solicit bids for a balloting system and plan to have new voting machines in place before 2008.
Options include electronic counting machines, electronic machines with a paper printout and optical scanners.
Rex Quidilla, interim chief elections officer, said, "We expect the biggies to bid, and we want to see as many different types of technology as possible."
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The state wants new ideas on how to run an election as it emphasizes efficiency, reliability and -- in case of contested counts -- verifiability.
With that ambitious agenda, state elections officials plan to have a new election system ready by the end of this year.
Rex Quidilla, interim chief election officer, said he hopes to call for proposals from election systems vendors this week.
The state dropped the computer punch-card ballot system in 1998 and went to an optical scanning system, but problems caused a statewide recount of the 1998 general election.
The system was changed to include completely electronic machines that could be used by disabled voters.
"The goal now is to entertain all options that are out there. We want to entertain as many bidders as possible," Quidilla said.
"We expect the biggies to bid, and we want to see as many different types of technology as possible," he added.
The state has contracts with ES&S for optical scanners and Hart Intercivic for electronic balloting machines and the software and election services. Quidilla said the contracts cost the state about $2.3 million per year.
Those contracts expire this year.
Dan Seligson, editor of Electionline, a nonprofit Washington, D.C.-based think tank that studies election administration, said Hawaii will have a choice between a purely electronic counting machine, electronic machines with a paper printout and the optical scanners.
Hawaii law calls for voting machines to include a paper printout, but Seligson said the machines print on flimsy thermal paper that is difficult to handle if a manual recount is ordered.
The optical scanner system's ballots are easier to recount, but large numbers of ballots must be printed in several languages.
To further complicate the voting machine selection, Seligson said, Congress is working on legislation that would require electronic voting machines with some sort of plain paper printers.
Seligson said there have been concerns about electronic systems because computer viruses or malicious software could change election results.
Quidilla said the state is looking for systems that can be leased instead of purchased so that Hawaii will not be stuck with obsolete equipment if the requirements or technology changes.
"It is a huge undertaking. We have a three-month time frame for the RFP (request for proposals), and then we want to acquire the system this year," Quidilla said.
The system, he said, should be one that speeds up the reporting of election results and is easily understandable by both voters and precinct workers, who must set up the equipment.
"Reliability is also going to be a big thing, and finally, finding a vendor with a track record of supporting their accounts. ... It has been a challenge for other vendors," Quidilla said.