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Populous counties ordering voting machines

Published: Saturday, July 26 2008 12:14 a.m. MDT

FARMINGTON — In anticipation of 85 percent voter turnout during the November presidential election, Utah's three most populous counties are ramping up their cache of electronic voting machines.

Davis and Salt Lake counties have already secured contracts for extra machines, basically a rental agreement of $500 per machine plus shipping costs.

Utah County is preparing to execute a similar contract, while Weber County officials are exploring the idea.

A new touch-screen voting machine costs about $2,700, and officials are opting for the rental route rather than purchase extra machines that sit around for four years.

Davis County elections manager Pat Beckstead recently told county commissioners that the county's 833 machines are sufficient for most elections. But an expected run on the polls due to the excitement surrounding this year's election means 183 additional strategically placed machines throughout Davis County should help alleviate crowded polling places.

Davis County's bill will be $99,000.

Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said her office originally had 2,884 machines from federal Help America Vote Act funds but purchased 130 additional machines for $357,000.

For this year's election, Salt Lake County is planning to rent 500 machines and eight optical scanners for provisional and absentee ballots for $280,115.

In Utah County, Clerk/Auditor Bryan Thompson said his office is planning to rent about 400 voting machines to augment the 1,074 Utah County already owns.

Not only does it make sense not to have to store the extra machines to be used once every four years, Thompson said, but "who knows what technology will be available in four years?"

"We decided it's the most cost-efficient to rent voting machines," Beckstead said.

With the high cost of buying new voting machines, counties can rent three times as many machines as they could if they were to purchase them.

But if people want to vote in shorter lines, they shouldn't rely on more voting machines in more polling places, clerks say.

"It is imperative that voters utilize our early voting locations, which will be open for 10 consecutive days," Swensen said.

Early voting begins Oct. 21 and runs through Oct. 31 in various public locations: often libraries or government buildings.

Fourteen locations have been confirmed in Salt Lake County.

Davis County commissioners approved a contract Tuesday to begin a billboard campaign to remind residents to vote early.


E-mail: jdougherty@desnews.com

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