Paper Outage: Fort Bend County Goes to E-Vote System

Local voters who want to cast ballots in the upcoming November election have until the end of business tomorrow to register. And as Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, residents in Fort Bend County will have to get used to a new way of voting, thanks to a system that makes its debut in two weeks.

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The e-Slate voting system has been used in Harris County for the past several years, a computerized voting machine that replaces Fort Bend County's old optical scan system used since 1985. The county has purchased almost 800 e-Slates, which will be in place when early voting begins October 24th. Steve Raborn is the county's elections administrator. "We actually talked to counties all over Texas and in other states as well and were actually pretty impressed with the operation of the e-Slates in Harris County and that was a big factor in why we chose this system," he says.

The e-Slate is about the size of a legal pad and features a rotary-wheel voters use to navigate through the electronic ballot. The process starts with a random access code printed by a computer. Voters then take the access code the machine and use the wheel to select a language and then to make their selections.

The machine allows voters to go back and correct their ballots before they finalize the vote. Raborn says voters will also be able to ask for help before they officially cast their ballots. "We're trying to educate voters in the county that it's not a computer per se, it's more like an appliance. If you can turn the dial on a washing machine and press the button to make the water start running in the your machine, then you can vote on the e-Slate," he says.

Fort Bend County, which has almost 253,000 registered voters, spent about $2.5 million on the machines and will get most of that back through a government program that encourages voting machine upgrades. Resident June Herring has never used an e-Slate, but does know how to use a computer. She says she's not intimidated by prospect of voting with the new system. "I was at first by the computers, but I think after you use that once, you shouldn't be. I think it will speed it up. Can't stay in the horse and buggy days," she says.

Voters will also have a chance to practice on the machines before they vote for real. Demonstration e-Slates are set-up at the county's elections offices in Rosenberg.

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