Streamline voting

GLENDALE — Machines that would expedite vote-by-mail verification were demonstrated to about a dozen city employees and election consultants Tuesday at City Hall.

The presentation was the latest sign of Glendale’s foray into electronic voting, and one way the city could count ballots faster, cut costs and unclog bottlenecks in the city clerk’s office, officials said.

The machines verify mail-in ballots, which represented about 14,500 of about 61,200 votes cast in the last municipal election, City Clerk Ardy Kassakhian said.

Voter verification is a lengthy process vulnerable to human errors, he said. The VoteRemote can scan 3,600 ballots in one hour, turning 88 hours of work into six, said officials from Election Systems & Software, the company that produces the verification machine.

“The number of people voting by mail has increased significantly,” Kassakhian said. “This is the future, right here.”

The city is under-equipped to handle the volume of mail-in ballots and spends about $10,000 to outsource the counting and voter-verification to the Los Angeles County registrar, Kassakhian said.

“The machines would pay for themselves in two elections,” he said.

The systems look like automated stamping machines that roll envelopes through a computer-like mainframe. Each machine costs about $20,000.

“Cities and counties are struggling to be a mail processing plant, with all the scrutiny that comes in the election industry,” said Jerry Wagoner, a division manager for the company. “We’re trying to automate your current process, not reinvite . . . or pigeonhole you into doing certain things.”

Immigrants and voters who aren’t fluent in English also prefer mail-in ballots, Kassakhian said.

Buying the machine would not put permanent city employees out of work, officials said, but the clerk’s office might not hire the temporary staff it brings on every two years to help verify ballots.

The city continues to explore buying one machine, officials said. Kassakhian said it would need to be in place by February 2011 to be effective before the next April election.

“Going through our budget, we project an election budget and costs are going up regardless,” Kassakhian said. “This will free up staff time, and it will effectively help us track things. Anything that [provides] efficiency and tracking, we would pursue.”

The machines do not collect or store privacy data beyond routine address and party identification data, election officials said.

The City Council is without a timeline on considering the VoteRemote purchase, Kassakhian said.

“Hopefully, they’ll be as impressed with the machine as others have been, and we’ll go from there,” he said.

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