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Virginia Governor Announces New Voting Machines

The new technology would create a paper trail for each ballot cast, something not all the voting machines used in Virginia do.

(TNS) -- Gov. Terry McAuliffe is proposing that the state spend $28 million next year to replace Virginia's voting machines.

The new technology would create a paper trail for each ballot cast, something not all the voting machines used in Virginia do. About 2,100 precincts would get new machines under the plan, and another 400 that have already upgraded would be reimbursed.

McAuliffe said Monday it's necessary to ensure fair, efficient and effective voting, even though next year's budget is tight.

"This goes to the core of who we are as Virginians," he said.

The governor spoke at City Hall. In the November election, voters and candidates here and in Newport News reported difficulties casting accurate votes using touch-screen machines.

U.S. Rep. Scott Rigell was among them. During the election, he reported that votes cast for him were being recorded for his opponent. He still won. At the news conference Monday, he praised McAuliffe for suggesting 100 percent of the new machines' cost be paid for by the state.

"I can think of no better investment," Rigell said.

McAuliffe also proposed $30,000 per fiscal year in his budget to update the Department of Elections' website and electronic poll books.

If approved by the General Assembly, the state would go through a procurement process to select the new machines. They would be uniform statewide, which would make it easier to find technicians to repair them in a pinch during elections, McAuliffe said. They'd be in place by August and ready for use in the November election.

Beach officials already had decided to switch to a paper-ballot system in the new year. Mayor Will Sessoms said Monday they had been discussing what to cut in the city's spending plan to pay for new machines.

"Governor, what you've just done is a huge help to our budget," Sessoms said.

Al Ablowich, chairman of the Virginia Beach Electoral Board, said the city has been using its Accuvote TSX touch-screen machines since about 2005. Federal funds originally helped pay for them, he said. Absentee ballots in the city are recorded on paper, but the machines print out tallies of votes for each candidate, not paper records for each vote cast, he said.

With the new machines, voters would mark paper ballots, which then would be scanned into a machine, like the bubble sheets students fill in for the SAT. The paper ballots can be saved in case of a recount.

Ablowich said it's hard to know whether newer machines would prevent issues like Virginia Beach saw in November. Likely there would just be different problems, he said.

"Elections have machines and people. As long as you have either, you'll have problems," and it's the board's job to minimize them, he said.

©2014 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)