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Accurate vote counts are Kimbra Dean’s specialty

By Kay S. Pedrotti Nearly 40 years ago, Frank Patrick taught a young man named Kimbra Dean how to care for the county’s first mechanical voting machines. Dean says he did not begin his work as the sole maintenance person for voting machines until after Patrick retired, about the same time levertype machines were introduced here. The Automatic Voting Machine (a trade name) featured one big lever, which closed a curtain when the voter was ready, arming the machine to record votes. When the voter was finished flipping small levers for various races, a push on the big lever the other way opened the curtain and recorded the votes. The machine included about 600 counters, which would accommodate recording of 40 columns with 15 spaces each. Machine totals were printed out by the machine as an impression of numbers on carbonless paper. The papers from each machine were taken to the courthouse and tallied there, Dean says. At the time he started his work there were less than 20 machines at various locations. Now computerized touch-screen machines number 40 with another couple in reserve. Dean goes from one polling place to another, ‘all day, just checking and visiting unless something goes wrong, then they’ll call me to where I’m needed,’ he says. Between the lever machines and the touch screens, says Dean, came a method that he calls ‘fill in the bubbles.’ Each voter’s handmarked ballot was read by a scanner and automatically added up. ’I really liked that system the best,’ he says. ‘There was virtually no setup. We could test some sample-type ballots, make sure the numbers came out right and that was it. I thought it was a perfect system.’ When Lamar County officials began thinking of changing from the bubble-ballot, he said, ‘The secretary of state’s office had decided to standardize everything in Georgia but wouldn’t go with the punch-stylus machines because of the big controversy in Florida with the ‘˜hanging chads’ in the 2000 Presidential election.’ That’s why the touch-screen machines were initiated but Dean says not all voters are happy with them. ’Some people believe they could be easily hacked,’ he says, ‘but speaking as somebody who knows the system I doubt that could happen.’ At least four touch-screen machines will be ready by Sept. 17, in plenty of time for early voting for the November general election. Dean’s regular job is maintenance at Aldora Mills, where tire cord is made for Continental Tire Company. He and his wife Beaver have been married since 1985 and have three children, Leigh, 29; Austin, 26; and Mason, 24. While his stipend for working on the voting machines is nominal, he said, ‘that little check always seems to come at a good time and it’s something I like doing.’

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