OREM — The Orem City Council tonight will weigh the pros and cons of using pricey electronic voting machines versus sticking with the older and technologically slower system of punch cards for casting ballots.

City officials will consider asking Utah County officials if they can use the county's Diebold voting machines for city elections and allow residents a touch-screen way to cast their ballots.

However, using the new technology could cost from $30,000 to $35,000 for a primary election, according to preliminary county estimates.

General elections could be even more expensive because more machines would be needed to accommodate a larger voting population.

Orem's City Council must evaluate whether the increased ease of counting and voting consistency is worth the cost and loss of local control. The 6 p.m. meeting will be at 56 N. State, Orem, in the council chambers.

"The punch-card system worked fine in the past," said Donna Weaver, the Orem recorder and election official. "You could count on it, it was reliable and worked well. Now it's an outgoing technology."

The price tag was easier to digest as well. Voting booths were around $10 and the "votomatic" — the metal sleeve with pages for ballots — was also around $10.

But those sleeves aren't made anymore, and the machines for counting the ballots require Windows 98 or an older platform — software that isn't in high demand, Weaver said.

Until 1999, Orem used paper ballots — the old-fashioned way of voting. Residents indicated preference with an "X" in a box next to a candidate's name. The city upgraded to the punch-card system in 2001.

The current method still means the counting and gathering is done in the city. With an electronic switch, more of the workload would go to county government officials.

American Fork and Provo are the only other Utah County cities using the punch-card system, and Provo officials said they're looking into the potential switch to electronic machines.

"It just seems to us that because those machines were purchased with taxpayer dollars that we ought to see if we could expand their use without the cities paying that additional amount," said Raylene Ireland, Provo spokeswoman.

However, the hefty price tag is simply the cost of keeping the machines up and running, said Sandy Hoffmann, elections coordinator for Utah County.

"We're not billing them for anything extra — it just costs that much to operate them," Hoffmann said. The technology department may spend several hours programing and fixing the machines at $50 an hour, which gets expensive.

But either decision is positive, Hoffmann said.

"I can see where it benefits the city to stay with the city, and I can see where it benefits the city to go with the county," Hoffmann said. "I really don't think it's a lose situation either way. I see it as a win-win either way."


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