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    Dress rehearsal for voters puts new devices onstage

    Final results on a mock vote take longer than expected, but voters like the new touch screens.

    By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published August 4, 2002


    TAMPA -- A smile grew on Ronald Young's face Saturday as he stood in front of an unfamiliar machine at New Mount Zion Baptist Church.

    "Oh, yeah," said Young, 39, pressing his finger to a computer-like screen. "I like this."

    Hillsborough elections officials were saying the same thing about his response.

    Young was one of 14,400 voters who tested the county's new touch-screen voting machines in a mock election Saturday. The reviews were generally glowing.

    For a dress rehearsal, the election went "very well," said Supervisor of Elections Pam Iorio.

    But not perfect.

    Final results were not in until 6:15 p.m., four hours after polls closed, in part because a few dozen of the 1,200 cartridges used for recording votes took longer to process than expected.

    "It's not a big deal in the scheme of things," Iorio said.

    On the plus side, the transmission glitches that marked the system's debut in Plant City in April did not happen.

    The $12-million touch-screen system is replacing the punch card machines that marred the 2000 presidential election with overvotes and dimpled chad. It's new to a half-million Hillsborough voters.

    But most people who tried it Saturday became comfortable quickly.

    "That's it?" said Dolores Velazquez, 73, voting at Highland United Methodist Church in South Seminole Heights.

    "Too easy for me," said Samuel Davis Jr., 44, as he strutted away from his machine at New Mount Zion.

    Not everyone breezed through. When a poll worker told Jeannette Venters, 77, to put her voting card in the slot below the monitor, she couldn't find it right away.

    "Just vote for one?" she asked later.

    "Just one," the worker said.

    "It might be all right once we get used to it," Venters said on her way out the door.

    Throughout Saturday's election, poll workers called "touch-screen technicians" helped voters with questions.

    The technicians will be on hand for the upcoming elections, beginning with the primary Sept. 10. A touch-screen machine will be set aside at every precinct for voters who want to do a trial run.

    Iorio said Saturday's turnout, strong despite morning rain, far exceeded expectations. She said the minor problems that occurred will be reviewed this week.

    "We're learning from this," she said.

    There was at least one old-fashioned glitch.

    Voters who showed up at the polling place at Palma Ceia United Methodist Church found a wedding in progress and no signs directing them elsewhere.

    At the suggestion of another lost voter, Sue Noel and Helen Boone drove to nearby Palma Ceia Presbyterian before realizing that Palma Ceia Baptist was the place to be.

    "The Yankees are going to start calling us Flori-duh again," joked Boone, 76.

    Iorio said she was not aware of the mixup, but will look into that, too.

    For the record, John F. Kennedy finished first in the mock vote for president, despite a crowded field of strong candidates.

    Kennedy snagged 31.54 percent of the vote, followed by Thomas Jefferson at 26 percent and Abraham Lincoln at 24 percent. Eleanor Roosevelt and the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall finished a distant fourth and fifth, respectively.

    -- Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3405 or matus@sptimes.com.

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