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Coconino, eight other counties to get rid of punch-card voting

Associated Press

PHOENIX -- Punch-card voting equipment still in use in nine Arizona counties will be replaced with optical scanners under a new contract awarded by the state to an Ohio company.

The state awarded the contract to Diebold Election Systems. The North Canton, Ohio, company was one of three bidders, officials said.

The contract's first phase to replace punch cards is worth nearly $2.5 million. It will result in even newer voting equipment being put at polling places statewide in coming years, officials said.

Under the contract, Diebold is to provide 449 optical-scanner vote tabulators -- devices that read voter-marked paper ballots -- as well as related equipment, software and central calculators for each county.

Coconino, Gila, Greenlee, La Paz, Mohave, Navajo, Pinal, Santa Cruz and Yuma counties still use punch cards.

The state expects to get up to $58 million from the federal government in coming years under the Help America Vote Act for election reforms that include replacement of punch cards.

That technology fell into disfavor in the wake of controversy over hanging chads and other aspects of the 2000 presidential election in Florida and must be replaced under the federal law.

The new optical scanners, similar to those in use in Arizona's other six counties, will be in place in time for the state's Feb. 3 presidential preference primary, Secretary of State Jan Brewer said Thursday.

"We are on schedule," Brewer said. "The equipment will be ordered and paid for. We'll send equipment out to the counties, and we'll send people out to train them in how to use it."

Arizona also plans to acquire touch-screen voting systems and put at least one such device at each polling place by 2006 to help people with disabilities cast ballots. The Diebold contract calls for the company to provide that technology as well.

However, the state will proceed cautiously with that next step because the technology is unproven and because the federal government has yet to provide the needed dollars, Brewer said.

"Certainly by the time that we get the (touch-screen devices) in our state polling places we will make sure that they are performing at the highest level of accuracy," Brewer said.

Diebold won the contract over Election Systems & Software, of Omaha, Neb., and Avante International Technology, of Princeton, N.J.

It outscored its rivals in cost and all other categories considered by a state procurement panel. Diebold's proposal was deemed to be "responsive, responsible and most advantageous to the state," according to a State Procurement Office evaluation summary obtained by The Associated Press.

Other steps being taken to comply with the federal law include creating a statewide voter registry, setting up a voter fraud hotline, increasing voter education programs and providing new training for election workers.
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