State legislation promoted by Cook County Clerk David Orr would establish a pilot program for some Cook County voters to test out touch screen voting. State Rep. Jeffrey Schoenberg (D-Evanston) and state Sen. Steven Rauschenberger (R-Elgin) are sponsoring the measure in the Illinois Legislature.
The bill calls for making touch screen voting machines, which enable voters to select candidates by touching a computer monitor screen, available during in-person absentee voting at several village and township halls in the April 2003 consolidated election. Voters in those precincts would still have the option of casting ballots using the current punch card system.
"It is in the best interest of every election authority to keep up with state-of-the-art technology," said Orr, adding a number of counties throughout the nation and the state of Georgia have recently switched to touch screen. "Touch screen can easily accommodate the county’s lengthy ballot and is preferred by many disabled voters."
During the 2000 presidential election, Los Angeles County set up a similar pilot program involving 21,963 voters at nine early voting sites. Election officials reported that 99 percent of the more than 9,200 touch screen voters who filled out a post-voting survey rated the system as "excellent" or "good" and added they would like to see touch screen used in future elections. L.A. County is now pursuing an expanded program.
Along with reliability, accuracy and ease of use, touch screen machines offer strong safeguards against mistakes and unrecorded votes. Touch screen notifies voters of overvotes (voting for too many candidates in a race) and undervotes (failing to register a vote for any candidate in a race). Voters can make changes or corrections before submitting a final ballot.
Touch screen machines can also: provide for an unlimited number of candidates and races without creating a crowded ballot (Cook County has the longest ballot in the nation, measuring more than four times longer than other Illinois ballots); hook up audio tracks and earphones to accommodate hearing and visually impaired voters; and translate the ballot into different languages.
"The pilot program would allow voters to try out the system and determine how they interact with it, what they think of it, and if they can use it easily," said Orr, noting that comprehensive usability studies and voter surveys would also be performed as part of the pilot program. "We would subject any system to rigorous testing to ensure that voter privacy and ballot security are not compromised in the least."
Punch card and optical scan voting systems are the only systems currently certified and in use in Illinois. Another bill, supported by Orr, allowing for the certification of touch screen voting has been introduced in the Illinois General Assembly. A third bill under consideration and also pushed by Orr would require all new voting systems to undergo usability testing by the Illinois State Board of Elections to detect possible equipment problems or defects before they are put into use.
For more information, call the Elections Department at (312) 603-0906.