The D.C. board of elections and ethics, after years of being criticized for delays in tabulating election results, has moved to establish an electronic vote-counting system for the city.
The board, which experimented with four different types of voting machines in November's election, has asked Mayor Walter E. Washington to add $1 million to the city's fiscal 1977 budget for electronic machines designed to read paper ballots. The machines are similar to those already in limited use in the city.
If the request were approved in this year's budget, the machines could be in place in time to be used in the November school board and advisory neighborhood commission elections, board chairman Shari B. Kharasch said.
However, the request may have been made too late to be included in this year's budget, according to the city's budget office. A supplemental budget request has already been drawn up by the mayor and forwarded to the federal Office of Management and Budget, which reviews the city's requests.
The board asked for the money on the basis of a staff recommendation after reviewing the performance of various machines that were tested on election day. The board tested two electronic voting machines, one machine which projects ballots on film inside the voting booth, and the Gyrex vote tabulator, which has been used here before in limited numbers to count ballots.
The board did not recommend any particular brand of machine, because the machines will be acquired through competitive bidding. But the board recommended the same type of machines as the Gyrex.
The major advantage of an electronic ballot scanner is that a record of the vote is preserved, said Kharasch. "We wanted to be able to go back and read the ballots," she said.
The major advantages of the Gyrex type of machine, according to a draft report on the results of the election day test, are that a small amount of equipment is required, the paper ballot is more versatile than ballots that are built into machines, the ballots can be recounted if need be and the same system can be used for both in-person and absentee balloting.
Another advantage the report identified is that voting could continue in the case of an electrical failure.
The city already has 30 Gyrex machines, but 160 units would be needed to cover the city, according to the report.
All the machines tested on election day worked well, according to the draft report. "We had troops of vendors making sure they would," said Kharasch.
Kharasch said that $1 million was close to what the board expects such a system, with counting machines in each precinct, would cost.It isn't a firm price, she said, because the ultimate price will be determined by the bids submitted by companies that hope to supply the machines.
"It is important to note that (the law) calls for the election of all 356 advisory neighborhood commissioners in November," she said, urging the mayor to expedite the budget request. "A manual counting process in such an election would be extremely cumbersome."
In February, 1976, the District elected advisory neighborhood commissioners in an election characterized by snafus, including ballot boxes falling off trucks. It was days before some results were known.