Seniors See Preview of Optical Scan Ballot

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Byline: Binyamin Appelbaum, Times-Union staff writer

Pat Murzynsky still wonders whether hers was among the 27,000 punch card ballots Duval County election officials rejected in November.

She knew whom she had chosen. She just wasn't sure it counted.

So Murzynsky removed her name from the registration rolls and swore she would never vote again. Not with that chad system. Not until she could be sure her vote would count.

Yesterday, a smiling Murzynsky declared she was ready to give participatory democracy another chance.

"I can live with this," she said, patting the new optical scan ballot box that elections officials had put on display at a Southside senior citizens town meeting.

"I trust it [because] it records my vote as I put it onto a piece of paper."

Chastened Duval County elections officials have begun a massive campaign to restore the confidence of voters like Murzynsky in the wake of the 2000 presidential election, pledging to replace punch cards with optically scanned ballots and to increase voter education and poll worker training.

The effort's centerpiece is a $2.3 million plan to lease 300 optical scan machines ahead of the 2002 elections. But an Aug. 14 special Republican primary in state Senate District 6 has forced officials to improvise.

To make good on its no punch card pledge, the county will borrow 120 Accu-vote optical scanners from Leon County, said Robert Phillips, an elections official. He was on hand with one of the new machines yesterday -- which he described as a trash can with a computer on top -- in the first of a month-long series of public demonstrations.

"We don't have a lot of time, but we want to reach as many people as we can," Phillips said. "We want to give people the opportunity to see it . . . and we're starting poll worker training next week."

Senior citizens are a good group to start with because they vote more often than other age groups and have more problems with technology, Phillips said. The good news, he added, is that using the new machines is "as easy as falling off a log."

Virginia Lusco, who works the polls in Windy Hill on election days, pushed a ballot into the optical scanner before deciding she agreed.

"I think it's excellent," she said. "There was nothing wrong with the other system, but this one can make it simpler for everyone. …