Dell lobbies for voting business

Soon after last year's presidential election turmoil, Dell Computer Corp.,

the world's largest PC manufacturer, began assessing the voting technologies

market. With little experience or credibility in the election area, it went

looking for a partner and found one in Hart InterCivic, a leading provider

of voting systems.

Today, the two Austin, Tex.-based companies will announce a multi-year,

exclusive alliance that is sure to capitalize on the election reform fervor

to modernize systems across the country. Specifically, the two will market

a Hart InterCivic product called the eSlate Electronic Voting System that

they claim is more accurate, accessible, reliable, secure and easier to

use than other products in the $1 billion to $3 billion voting technology

market.

Introduced late last year, eSlate has been used in a handful of jurisdictions

in Texas, Colorado, and Maryland. But with the alliance, Hart InterCivic

hopes to leverage Dell's resources and relationships with state and local

governments, said David Hart, chairman of the private company, which has

5,000 customers in 14 states.

He said his company's customers are primarily local election administrators,

whose long-time calls for reform have gone unheeded until now. Now they're

being given an audience with secretaries of states, chief information officers

and others, who are mostly Dell clients, he said. Both companies will market

and continue to co-develop the product, as well as offer training and education.

The eSlate system prevents overvotes — selecting more than one candidate

for a position — and lets users know if they undervoted, when a choice is

skipped. The system also has devices for those who are blind, deaf and physically

impaired, including an interface for breath control devices. Most other

direct recording electronic machines are touch-screen, but company officials

said they tend to be more expensive and higher maintenance.

Composed of a central control unit that links to up to 12 individual

voting units, the system is lightweight and has backup batteries in case

of an electrical outage. A registered voter is given a unique number that

is entered into a unit, about the size of a legal pad. The voter then uses

a rotary wheel to move selections through the full-color screen ballot and

presses a "vote" key to select a candidate. When all selections are made,

a confirmation screen appears and the voter makes a final submission to

vote. At any time before then, a voter can change a selection.

Vote counts are stored in each individual unit, and are also tabulated,

and stored in a flash memory card in the central control unit. Results can

be hand delivered or sent securely via modem to the counting headquarters.

A voter can even receive a receipt showing he or she voted.

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