RIVERSIDE — Riverside County voters will say good-bye to those familiar paper ballots when they go to the polls in November, instead choosing candidates and issues by computer in the largest application of electronic voting in the nation.
The county's 615,000 registered voters will be the first in the state to go completely electronic by using a process designed to reduce paper and speed up vote counts once polls close.
Touch-screen computers will be placed at the county's 715 polling locations, stretching from Corona to the Arizona border, county officials said Wednesday.
“With the touch-screen units, voting will be easier, faster, more secure and more accurate in terms of tallying election results,” Mischelle Townsend, the county's Registrar of Voters, said Wednesday.
Secretary of State Bill Jones joined Townsend and other county officials Wednesday for a formal announcement and to unveil the system.
Other California counties are testing the technology. In Long Angeles County, touch-screen computer voting will be available at several locations during the three weeks leading up to the election. Marin, Monterey, San Mateo, Trinity and Tulare counties also will use the computers at designated sites.
Similar systems have been tested elsewhere in the country, including Cleveland and Beaver County, Pa.
“There are advantages as the technology grows that make the whole election system better,” said Hal Dasinger, an elections analyst for the Secretary of State's office who is helping develop standards for touch-screen voting.
With the electronic system, officials say compiling results on election night will take half as long as tallying paper ballots. Another advantage: Voters who change their mind midway through voting can erase their previous choice and make another selection.
In a typical election, many paper ballots are thrown out because of mistakes such as errant pencil marks, officials said. The new system, however, will point out mistakes – such as three candidates chosen for two open school board seats – before ballots are cast, Dasinger said.
Townsend said the machines cost Riverside County nearly $13 million, but she estimates the system will save $600,000 in printing and paper costs for this election alone.
She said 3,000 volunteers will help introduce the system during the Nov. 7 election. The county will still offer traditional paper ballots to those who are voting by mail.
Riverside’s new system is considered a steppingstone to Internet voting, which has already been used in one binding election. In March, Arizona Democrats used the Internet to vote in the presidential primary, although traditional polling sites also were open.
Not everyone is sold on the idea of computerized voting, however. Some worry that hackers could manipulate such systems and alter results.
“The technology gets to a certain point where people get suspicious of it,” said Dasinger, of the Secretary of State's office. “It becomes hard to verify things like freedom from fraud and manipulation.”