The Woodbridge Registrars of Voters, Beth Heller and Chris Laydon, invited a representative of LHS Associates Inc, a voting machine vendor, to demonstrate its optical scanning machine for local election officials recently. Ken Hajjar, director of sales and marketing for LHS, visited Woodbridge Town Hall to exhibit the Accu-Vote OS optical scanner, which is manufactured by Diebold. The meeting was attended by area town leaders, town clerks, registrars of voters and election monitors.

Optical scanning machines are being considered as replacements for the standard lever machines that do not comply with HAVA requirements. HAVA or Help America Vote Act, which went into effect Jan. 1, requires that every polling place provide a voting system that creates a permanent record of ballots cast. In addition, polling places must offer a system that allows for private and independent voting for those citizens with disabilities. Although the Accu-Vote OS does not meet the HAVA requirement for disability access, it does satisfy the mandate to generate an audit trail of ballots.

The Accu-Vote OS is a compact machine, weighing just over 13 pounds. It is easily transported and stored. Additionally, the functions of the machine are simple and straight-forward, requiring minimal training for election workers. The voting system also comes with portable, easily assembled booths for privacy.

Voters use a pre-printed, full face ballot that has small ovals next to the available choices. These ovals need to be filled in by the voter. Once the ballot is completed, it is fed into the optical scanner and counted. The machine provides over-vote protection, returning the erroneous ballot to the voter so that corrections can be made. In addition, the machine can allow for accurate tabulation of write-in votes.

Despite these advantages, the Diebold-manufactured optical scanning machine has recently been involved in security controversies in a number of states. In December, two counties in Florida scrapped plans to use the Diebold optical scanner after a demonstration by Harri Hursti, a Finnish security expert, showed that the machines were "hackable." California, too, has refused to certify the Diebold equipment, citing "unresolved significant security concerns."

Hajjar assured the town representatives that the machine was secure and accurate. He dismissed concerns about the security integrity of the product, maintaining that Hursti was given certain unfair advantages to accomplish the "hacking" feat. Hajjar declared, "We have not had a single failure since we have been doing this."

Ten Connecticut municipalities already use the Accu-Vote OS. The election officials from those towns are pleased with the machine's service. Pat Moran, registrar in Westbrook, said, "It has been our sole means of voting in the last few years. We've had a good experience with the machines and LHS."

Old Lyme also uses the Accu-Vote OS. the Registrar, Pat McCarthy, said, "I can't say enough about it. I'm so pleased with it."

McCarthy also mentioned that her town was able to spend less money on elections by using the optical scanner. Her comparison between optical scanning machines and the lever machines revealed a savings of over $1,000.

Heller and her Republican counterpart, Laydon, have just begun the process of evaluating new voting systems. They plan to intensify their research in the coming months to look for the best replacement system for Woodbridge.