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Utah Demos Newer, More Secure Voting Machines

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Julia Ritchey, KUER
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Jennifer Kennedy tests out a voting machine with audio ballot from Austin, Texas-based Hart Intercivic. Kennedy advocates for making voting easier for those with visual impairments.

Election officials plan to upgrade the state’s old voting machines with newer, more secure systems. Five voting equipment companies under consideration for the contract held a demo Wednesday at the Utah State Capitol to let the public test drive their machines.

Shawn Phillips is a sales engineer for Hart Intercivic, an Austin, Texas-based company competing with four other vendors to provide Utah with new voting machines.

"As a poll worker, I've activated an accessible session for you, we have an audio ballot," he says to Jennifer Kennedy on how to use the touchscreen and audio-based system to cast her ballot.

 

 

Kennedy, who's blind, says voting technology has come a long way over the last two decades for people with disabilities, especially the text-to-speech function.

"It really got garbled, it was very staticky sounding, and it’s not like that on any of these machines so far I’ve tested, and it’s more clear than I’ve ever remembered it being," she says.

 

Kennedy is a mobility specialist from West Valley who helps blind people learn to travel and use public transit. She brought a group of her students to the State Capitol to test out some of the new machines the state wants to purchase.

“Many blind people for many, many years have not had the opportunity to cast an independent and private vote," she says. "...It’s important to me to continue to participate in keeping that process available to us.“

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Credit Julia Ritchey, KUER
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Daniel Clark of Omaha-based Election Systems and Software demonstrates a machine that can count 300 ballots per minute.

Mark Thomas, state director of elections, estimates the equipment overhaul will cost about $10 million. But he says cost is only one factor the state will take into consideration.

 

"We need equipment that will be able to process the ballots quicker...These by-mail ballots," he says. "Security obviously. Think of 10 years ago, the security now, we need to upgrade that. That’s a big part of this.”

Thomas says the new machines will also make it easier to audit the results of any particular election, increasing transparency in the process.

 

Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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