OKLAHOMA CITY — The voting machines that have recorded Oklahomans’ ballots for 18 years without major problems will be replaced with similar equipment before the 2012 general election, a top state election official says.
State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax told The Oklahoman newspaper that the Optech-III Eagle optical-scanner machines in use since 1992 have lasted much longer than their 10-year life expectancy, but their age has become a problem.
Ziriax said bids are now being sought for a new system to be used statewide. He said officials have specified that they want a new system that’s similar to the one now being used, with optical scanners to read ballots marked by voters.
“State law requires Oklahoma to use voting devices that are scanners, meaning that we have a paper ballot that is hand-marked by the voter and it is tabulated by scanner when the voter puts that ballot into the voting device,” Ziriax said. “That is not going to change even with the new system.”
Voters still will mark their ballots and insert them in the optical-scanning counters, he said.
State election officials have talked about replacing the Optech machines for several years, but the devices have continued to perform well, Ziriax said.
However, with spare parts unavailable on the market, election workers have to replace worn-out parts with pieces obtained from extra machines scattered across the state, he said.
The system continues to be reliable and accurate, but is much slower than machines now on the market, Ziriax said. This is a good time to replace the machines, because no statewide elections are scheduled for 2011, he said.
Voters will use the current machines in this month’s special Senate District 47 election and in some other local races this spring, he said.
Later in the year, some local elections may be conducted on the new equipment.
Optical scanners are needed in each of the nearly 2,300 precincts across the state.
The new equipment — including a new computer system — is to be paid for with about $26 million remaining from a $33 million federal grant the state received in 2005 to buy a new voting system, Ziriax said.
The Election Board has used some of the federal money to upgrade software, such as its statewide voter registration database, and some computer hardware.
Ziriax said the Election Board’s main computer has direct and fast connections to Oklahoma, Tulsa and Cleveland counties, but still receives results from the 74 other counties using nine modems that transmit data at slow speeds.
The new computer system will allow for faster connections, which could help in getting quicker results, he said.