Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News</i>
Jack Wheeler, a legally blind man from Ogden, tries out one of the selections Wednesday.

In her first election casting a ballot independently, Crystal Capizzo voted for Founding Fathers, literary giants and classic actors.

Who she actually voted for, however, meant much less to Capizzo than the simple act of voting. Even if it was only a test run of what could become Utah's new voting machines, for the blind resident of Clearfield, it was an important first.

"When I've voted before, they (voting judges) needed to help me," Capizzo said. On the new machines, "I could do it myself, and it was very easy. I loved it."

All of the new machines have audio to help blind voters and simple user interfaces that make casting ballots easy. They also give voters an opportunity to review their ballots, which will, ideally, reduce mistakes.

Capizzo was one of hundreds of people who lined up in an empty storefront at South Towne Center Wednesday to test four electronic voting machines that the state is evaluating for purchase. The voting-system test was the best chance for the public to have input on which machines the state will purchase, most likely before the end of the year.

Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert, who is the top election officer in the state, said the turnout was "surprising," considering that they were hoping for a couple of hundred participants. He was also excited to see the interest of those taking part in the test, considering that many of them had to stand in line for more than 30 minutes before testing the machines.

"This is history-making," Herbert said. "We're on the verge of changing how we cast ballots in a very revolutionary way."

After casting their ballots in a number of races with mock candidates — such as John Adams, Alexander Hamilton and George Washington for U.S. president or William Shakespeare and Ernest Hemingway for Emigration Township mayor — the participants were asked a number of questions about their experience. As opposed to simply wanting to know which machine was best, Herbert said that the information gathered is more important so that they can get the best machine, or combination of machines, possible.

"The information will really be what people liked and what they didn't like," Herbert said.

At least some of the participants put the machines through the wringer, throwing every conceivable curve ball at them. Chris Larsen, a Salt Lake County resident who has served as a voting judge and poll watcher, said that he wrote in candidates, intentionally made mistakes and skipped votes in an effort to make sure the machines would perform for every voting preference on election day.

"You've got to anticipate what will come up, and I did anything possible," he said. "I wanted to see if these machines would catch problems."

While there were a couple of glitches — such as a machine not registering one of his write-in votes — the most important component was the ability to review the ballot and receive a paper receipt at the end of voting.


E-mail: jloftin@desnews.com