The D.C. City council has approved funds for the Board of Elections to begin acquiring electronic vote counting machines on a schedule designed to have about 20 per cent of them in operation by November, 1978, when District residents vote for a mayor, city council members and congressional delegate.
The council last week approved $250,000 for the machines, reversing an earlier committee action which had cut the funds from Mayor Walter E. Washington's fiscal 1978 budget request.
The board of elections has asked for $1 million - the amount they estimated would be needed to install a complete system. The mayor cut the request by three-quarters, saying that the money should be made available in increments, according t Shari B. Kharasch, chairman of the elections board.
Kharasch said the amount approved would allow the board to go through the bidding process, provide for permanent voting booths to replace the cardboard dividers now in use, to provide for storage and put the machines in operation in about one-fifth of the city's voting precincts. If the money is not eliminated by Congressional action on the budget, and if there are no hitches in the procurement process, that could be done by November, 1978, she said.
The board, which experimented with four different types of voting machines in the November, 1976 election, had requested the money to buy electronic machines designed to read paper ballots. The machines are similar to those already in limited use in the city.
The board decided on that type of machine based on a staff recommendation after reviewing the performance of machines tested, which included two electronic voting machines, one machine which projects ballots on a screen inside the voting booth and the Gyrex vote tabulator, which has been used previously in the city in a limited fashion.
It is the Gyrex type of machine that the board recommended, although the particular brand of machine will be determined through competitive bidding.
Voters will vote by marking a paper ballot as before, but the vote count will be done automatically, speeding up a process which has sometimes been enormously slow. The adventage of a machine which counts paper ballots is that a record of vote is preserved, Kharasch has said. Also, as opposed to what happens with electronic voting machines, voting can continue in the event of electrical failure.
The city already has 30 similar machines, but 160 units would be needed to cover the city, according to the board of elections staff report which was released earlier this year.