Eight months after last November's presidential election cliffhanger, Dell has joined with election technology vendor Hart InterCivic to market a new electronic voting system that does away with paper ballots, mechanical machines and other antiquated systems.
The availability of the new Hart InterCivic eSlate Electronic Voting System was announced Monday by the two companies. Hart InterCivic designed the new devices and Dell will market them to a large government customer base.
Dell spokesman Dean Kline said that Hart InterCivic originally designed the laptop-size devices about three years ago as a needed replacement for older voting systems and to make it easier for visually- and physically-handicapped voters to cast their ballots.
The device, which is about an inch thicker than a standard laptop, looks very much like a bulked-up PDA. It can be equipped with headphones so the candidates on the ballot can be read automatically to visually-impaired voters. The machines also have fittings for "puff devices" used by some handicapped persons to allow them to operate the machines by inhaling or exhaling to make their selections.
"Their work came to fruition at the time when people started saying that we need to implement technology to improve voting," Kline said.
Each eSlate weighs about 6.5 lbs. and has battery backup and a 12.5-in. color SVGA screen that's covered by a clear polycarbonate layer for protection. Voters use a rotary selection knob, similar to those on newer videocassette recorders, to select the candidates in each race on the ballot, Kline said. Once chosen, the candidates' names are highlighted on the screen to confirm their selection by the voter.
Touch screens weren't used for the eSlates, Kline said, because they periodically must be recalibrated at the polling place, adding a degree of possible error.
"The beauty of the rotary selection is there's zero chance of that," Kline said. Since the voter's choices are highlighted on the screen, "there is no opportunity for that error to occur," he said.
Under the agreement between the two companies, the eSlates will be built by a third-party manufacturer, and are available for purchase immediately.
"The November 2000 elections shined a spotlight on the nation's election infrastructure, and we've clearly heard the need from our customers to help them modernize the way America votes," said Bob McFarland, vice president and general manager of Dell's government sector. "Election integrity will be critical to future elections."
The eSlates were recently tested in elections in Maryland and were used in some parts of the nation last November, according to Kline. The machines got positive feedback from voters.
Dell isn't the only computer maker that has teamed up with another company to create an electronic voting system. Compaq announced last October, before the tumultuous 2000 election had taken place, that it was working with VoteHere to devise a new electronic voting system. VoteHere's system was submitted last month to an independent testing group for certification for use in U.S. elections.
The systems will be marketed exclusively through Dell, which has a 10-year-old relationship with many governmental customers. Training and support will be provided by both companies.
Each eSlate retails for $US2,500, while a judge's booth controller, which acts as a server, sells for $3,500. One controller can handle up to 12 eSlates. Attachments for handicapped access sell for $2,500 per machine.
Bill Stotesbery, a spokesman for Hart InterCivic, said the devices use a proprietary operating system internally. They also feature Microsoft Windows-based front and back ends to allow municipal officials to create their own ballots on the devices and to tabulate and report the results after voting is completed.