San Diego Union Tribune

March 2, 2004

2004 VOTE
New voting machines debut today in county
Touch-screen system will be used at 1,611 polling places

By Luis Monteagudo Jr. and Joe Cantlupe

San Diego County will usher in a new era of elections today as it rolls out touch-screen voting machines in 1,611 polling places.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. for voters to make their choices in the presidential primary and on state bond measures, a countywide growth initiative and various local contests and propositions.

U.S. Justice Department officials will monitor the voting in San Diego County and other places in California to ensure the rights of minority voters and compliance with the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

Federal officials said they want to help local officials implement new requirements of the federal law and that their review was not sparked by any problem or controversy.

Voter turnout in San Diego County might be affected by rain and thunderstorms that could last through the afternoon.

"It makes it a little tougher for people to get out (to the polls)," said county Registrar of Voters Sally McPherson.

McPherson predicted a turnout of between 42 and 52 percent of the county's 1.3 million registered voters. That would be typical of presidential primaries.

The machines are replacing the punch-card ballots the county has used for 25 years. Those ballots were discredited and banned after problems with their use were highlighted during the 2000 presidential vote recount in Florida.

"I hope that our voters will be patient with our poll workers and our new process," McPherson said.

Some critics have warned that flaws in the machines' technology could result in errors or voting fraud.

Voters who prefer to use paper ballots can do so today, but only at the county Registrar of Voters Office, at 5201 Ruffin Road, Suite I, in Kearny Mesa.

Voters who have not mailed in their absentee ballots can drop them off today at the registrar's office or at any polling place.

Anyone who encounters problems with the machines or the voting process can call the registrar's office at (858) 565-5800. Voters also can call that number to find out their polling place.

Despite the new technology, unofficial election results are not expected earlier than usual. The counting process will get under way after Sheriff's Department reserves deliver the machines' voting cards to the registrar's office.

The first results are expected to be announced shortly after 8 p.m., from the count of absentee mail ballots. The results from voting at the polls could start coming in as early as 8:30 or 9 p.m.

San Diego election officials said they welcome the Justice Department review, as they have done in the past. Justice Department monitors were present at California polling places in November.

Each county is required by the Voting Rights Act to provide voting materials in one or more languages spoken by minority groups. In San Diego County, ballots are available in English, Spanish and Tagalog.

The election also marks the first time that the requirements of the Help America Vote Act will be in force.

Under that law, states must meet many new standards, which include computerized voting lists and requirements that disabled voters have access to the polls. It also mandates new identification guidelines for voters and ensures that voters can check their ballots and correct any errors.

Tim McNamara, assistant registrar of voters, said of the federal monitors, "They've let us know they are coming, and they've talked to us and asked us to go over our program."

Justice Department personnel also are assigned to Imperial, Kings, Los Angeles, San Benito, San Francisco and San Joaquin counties.

To file complaints about discriminatory voting practices, including acts of harassment or intimidation, voters may call the Voting Section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division at (800) 253-3931.