Governor signs bill for Georgia to
use touch-screen voting
April 19, 2001
All Georgia voters will use a modern
touch-screen balloting system in the next presidential election,
under legislation Gov. Roy Barnes signed into law Wednesday.
The state now is the first in the
nation to require that a uniform electronic voting system be in
place by July 2004. The system is to be tested this fall in up to
five Georgia cities.
"I think it's definitely a good
move," said Robert Richie, executive director of the Center for
Voting and Democracy, a nonprofit election watchdog group in Takoma
"It's the first such bill passed in
the wake of last year's election, which triggered so much greater
awareness of the election process," Richie said. "It's not going to
be the only one, but it may be one of the very few to be enacted
Florida's Legislature is trying to
modernize that state's system. One of the few points of agreement is
for Florida to abandon the punch ballot of hanging chad fame, said
Clay Roberts, director of Florida's elections division.
Connecticut and Louisiana are moving
toward electronic voting systems, Richie said. But, like Georgia,
they are troubled by the expense.
Secretary of State Cathy Cox's
office estimates the cost for outfitting all of Georgia's 159
counties with touch screens could be $35 million to $150 million. An
alternative would be to lease the equipment, said Cox's spokesman,
The federal government is expected
to provide grants to the states to modernize their voting machinery.
Congress is still debating the details, and there is no guarantee
the money will be allocated.
Cox is optimistic funding will be
provided. She has testified in Washington in support of federal
funding for voting reform, and asked the Georgia Legislature this
year to set aside $5 million to match the expected federal funding.
Lawmakers declined, but approved
Barnes' request for $200,000 to study ways to improve the state's
system. The 17-member panel, called the 21st Century Voting
Commission, is to set standards for the touch screens and recommend
a specific system for adoption.
Barnes indicated that he expects the
new machines to be funded with federal, state and local money, since
the election process is the responsibility of all three levels of
Barnes did not say how much he
expects local governments to contribute. When Senate Bill 213 was
being considered, the Association County Commissioners of Georgia
said it would support the measure if counties did not have to pay to
upgrade voting equipment.
Georgia now uses four types of
voting apparatus --- paper ballots, punch cards, optical scan and
lever machines. About 94,000 votes in Georgia in the 2000
presidential election were not counted because of some type of
malfunction, Cox said.
About 25 Georgia cities have
expressed interest in being part of this fall's pilot program.
Atlanta has not inquired, Cox said, but Augusta officials have
repeatedly asked for their city to be included. The selections are
to be made next month, Cox said.
Fulton County elections officials
said Wednesday they want to lease optical scanners for $690,000 a
year, as part of a $1.3 million election reform package. Fulton
County commissioners balked, saying they wanted to wait to see what
systems may be adopted.
Staff writer David Bennett
contributed to this article.