No More Hanging Chads
Hanging chads were hanging up the election process long before George Bush and Al Gore squared off in 2000. One U.S. county is turning to digital printing technology to eliminate the problem. An added benefit: Big savings for taxpayers.
Citizens in election precincts throughout the United States still use old-fashioned punch cards to place their votes. But as the contested U.S. presidential election in 2000 made clear, punch cards can lead to unreliable tallies and expensive recounts.
Madison County, Ill., had enough of hanging chads. County officials brought in an optical scanning system, purchased from Election Systems and Software Inc., in Omaha, Neb. That device uses lasers to accurately read and tally paper ballots.
The optical scanner eliminated the hanging chad problem that vexed the old punch card system. But a new problem cropped up: printing the ballots.
"Ballots aren't produced by the election fairies," says Mark Von Nida, county clerk of Madison County, Ill. "Someone has to print them, and it's a lot more technical than most people realize."
That's an understatement. Madison County has 162,000 registered voters among its population of 260,000. But they live in different taxing districts, cities, townships, school districts and legislative districts.
Add to that seven state legislators, two Congressmen and 231 precincts (voting districts). All of these factors impact the ballot's design.
"I may have a precinct with eight different types of ballots, because of differences in legislative districts, school districts and so on," Von Nida says. For an upcoming municipal election this April, Von Nida has to create and print 800 different styles of ballots.
That's a lot of short-run jobs, which can cause printing costs to skyrocket. Last March, ballot printing costs for a primary election with federal, state and local candidates totaled at least $120,000, or 40 cents per ballot.