Cook selects new voting system

May 26, 2009
Press Release

Suburban Cook County voters will cast ballots in future elections by marking their choices with a pencil or pen instead of punching out chads with a stylus, Cook County Clerk David Orr announced today.

Using federal dollars allocated by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), the Clerk’s office intends to replace its punch card equipment with optical-scan technology for the March 21, 2006 gubernatorial primary election.

In addition, the Clerk’s office will purchase at least one touch-screen machine for each of its 2,402 suburban Cook County precincts to enable physically disabled and blind voters to cast ballots privately and independently as required under HAVA, Orr said. The touch-screen machines will be available for any voter to use, Orr added.

Orr will recommend the county use federal grants to purchase the dual system for suburban Cook County voters from Sequoia Voting Systems – based in Oakland, Ca. – for approximately $23.8 million (includes capital costs with a five-year maintenance agreement). Sequoia submitted the lowest bid among three other finalists: Diebold Election Systems of North Canton, Ohio; Election Systems and Software (ES&S) of Omaha, Neb.; and Hart Intercivic of Austin, Texas.

“Optical scan voting is intuitive and easy for voters to use,” said Orr, whose office has scrutinized various voting systems for the past two years. “Currently, more voters cast ballots using optical scan equipment than on any other system in the country. Optical scan voting is accurate, secure and the most affordable system on the market.”

Several scientific studies have concluded that optical scan technology is very reliable and significantly reduces ballot errors.

Marking an optical scan ballot is similar to taking a standardized test, requiring the voter to make selections by shading in ovals next to candidate names. After making selections, voters will feed their ballots into a scanner, which will return them to voters if they have been filled out incorrectly.

The separate touch-screen machines also alert voters to possible errors and enable them to correct mistakes before casting ballots. As required under Illinois law, the touch-screen machines will come equipped with paper audit trails, which allow voters to verify their votes and which can be used in the case of recounts. The touch-screen machines can also accommodate different languages and the county’s long ballot. Voters would most likely use touch screens to cast ballots before Election Day if state lawmakers approve pending legislation to allow early voting in Illinois.

Sequoia Voting Systems has more than 100 years experience manufacturing election equipment, administering elections and providing election management support. Sequoia is the only voting equipment manufacturer to have deployed touch-screen machines with paper audit trails in a major election and to have conducted elections using a dual optical scan/touch screen system in single precincts.

“Cook County has conducted the most comprehensive and thorough review of voting technology in the country,” said Sequoia President Tracey Graham. “We are honored to have been selected in this intensely competitive process and look forward to providing the voters of Cook County with the most user-friendly, reliable and trusted voting system in the market today.”

Sequoia provides technology and services for elections in more than 100 jurisdictions, including: the state of Nevada (new touch screen with paper trail); Washington D.C. (touch screen/optical scan); Santa Clara Co., CA (touch screen): Riverside Co., CA (touch screen); Denver, Co. (push-button electronic system); and Baltimore, MD (push-button electronic system).

“Sequoia’s experience and track record is invaluable for the successful installation of election equipment in a jurisdiction the size of Cook County,” Orr said. “We are looking forward to working with them to complete this challenging undertaking for the March primary.”

HAVA requires that election authorities throughout the country replace their punch card systems by 2006 to be eligible for federal funds earmarked for the purchase of new voting equipment.

Suburban Cook County voters have used punch cards since 1976. The last change to the county’s punch card system occurred in 2001 after Orr helped win a legal ruling that allowed voters to have their ballots scanned for undervotes and overvotes and provided them with a “second chance” to fix mistakes.