Touch voting coming

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 14, 2005

BATON ROUGE &8212; Louisiana is about to get new voting machines.

Louisiana Secretary of State Al Ater said his office will begin contract negotiations with Sequoia Voting Systems, Inc., of Oakland, Calif., to replace voting machines statewide.

The contract, which will be for between 35 and 40 million, will provide touch-screen voting machines to all 64 parishes, about 4,000 machines in all. The contract will be paid for through the federal government&8217;s Help America Vote Act, which provides funds to states to upgrade their voting systems.

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Eventually, every parish will vote with the same system, Ater said.

&8220;It is my intention to negotiate and execute a a uniform, statewide voting system in Louisiana,&8221; Ater said.

Sequoia was chosen from five bidders at the recommendation of the Voting System Evaluation Committee, a nine-member panel of election officials from the state department and local levels.

&8220;Sequoia Voting Systems, Inc. was recommended by the committee following an exhaustive evaluation of all the applicants,&8221; Ater said.

The bid negotiations are the latest step in the state&8217;s progress in upgrading voting machines in polling places across the state.

In Spring 2005, the state department held demonstrations across the state of equipment from certified vendors. Members of the public and election officials had a chance to see the equipment and comment on it.

Bids were solicited in July and received in August, after which the committee evaluated them and made its recommendation.

&8220;This is a decision of enormous impact for Louisiana, not only today, but for years to come,&8221; Commissioner of Elections Angie LaPlace said. &8220;The evaluation committee made its determination in the best interest of the state.&8221;

Concordia Parish Clerk of Courts Clyde Ray Webber said Ater had recently told him there would be an annoucement about the new voting machines.

&8220;I talked to him a couple weeks ago, he said they had something coming soon,&8221; Webber said. &8220;I was hoping they might hold off for a while so I could keep my machines a few more months.&8221;

Webber said he prefers the old lever and dial machines Concordia Parish uses despite their large size and weight.

&8220;I just dread having to retrain all my election workers on new equipment, but if it&8217;s what you have to do, it&8217;s what you have to do,&8221; Webber said.

Webber may get his wish, at least for a while. Ater said talks with Sequoia should be complete by the end of the year, meaning new machines won&8217;t be coming until sometime in 2006 at the earliest.

Twelve parishes &8212; including Orleans, Caddo and East Baton Rouge &8212; already have touch-screen machines which will be given minor upgrades.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.