Shoppers get closer look at machines

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 3, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; The first votes cast on the state&8217;s new touch screen voting machines in Natchez Tuesday weren&8217;t for president, senator or even aldermen.

They were much more important &8212; Archie Manning, John Grisham and Morgan Freeman to name a few.

Famous athletes, authors, state parks and foods are some of the options on the practice ballot the Secretary of State&8217;s office set up in center court of the Natchez Mall to familiarize voters with the new machine.

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&8220;We&8217;ve gotten a very positive reaction,&8221; said Jenny Newman, a regional voter outreach coordinator with the Secretary of State&8217;s office. &8220;They&8217;ve been pleasantly surprised. When people actually get up there and start touching it that fear is relieved.&8221;

Newman set up one of the state&8217;s machines at the mall from 10 a.m. to noon Tuesday. Local elections commissioners joined her to pass out pamphlets and encourage shoppers to stop and try out the machine.

Adams County voters will use the touch-screen machine for the first time in the June 6 democratic primary for Senate elections.

&8220;I think it&8217;s going to take a little getting used to,&8221; said Mildred Dunham, who tried the machine Tuesday.

Dunham and her friends Joanna Butler and Janie Stewman said they were glad for the trial run, but think they might still mess up when they vote for the first time.

But the machine allows for that. Voters can check over their ballot as many times as they would like. Voting for too many candidates is not allowed, and if too few candidates aren&8217;t selected the machine notifies the voter. Ultimately, the machine makes a printout that voters can review and reject if they find a mistake.

&8220;At least I know I can go back and correct it,&8221; Butler said.

Liz Whitehead, a poll worker, said she thinks the machine is great.

&8220;It&8217;s just right there in front of you,&8221; she said. &8220;It tells you what to do, and if you make a mistake you can go back and correct it.&8221;

Whitehead said she anticipates some concerns from voters at first &8212; because it&8217;s new &8212; but thinks the machine is for the best in the long run.

Tiffany Hardin won&8217;t have any adjusting to do, since her first vote cast will be on the new machine.

&8220;It&8217;s fun,&8221; she said. &8220;I&8217;ve never voted, but I&8217;m going to try it now.&8221;

By the June election Adams County will have 112 of the new machines.

The new machines are required by the Help America Vote Act of 2002 &8212; the result of the 2000 presidential election woes in Florida and the need to accommodate disabled voters. The federal government is paying 95 percent of the cost of the first 72 machines. The county will have to cover the roughly $3,000 each cost of the others.

District 5 Elections Commissioner Mitch Ballard said the commissioners have set up practice machines at schools and club meetings for several months now in an attempt to familiarize the users.

&8220;Once they get their hands on it they accept it,&8221; Ballard said.

Commissioners will continue to display the machines up to the election.