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Pinellas' new voting machines put to early test

Countryside High sophomore Jessica Rose Powell, 16, is happy after the optical scan machine registered her vote for junior class president and vice president. She had a bad ballot the first time she tried to vote.


Countryside High sophomore Jessica Rose Powell, 16, is happy after the optical scan machine registered her vote for junior class president and vice president. She had a bad ballot the first time she tried to vote.


It was about 11 a.m. Tuesday, election day, not just in Indiana and North Carolina, but at Countryside High School.

Unlike the grinding contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, this campaign season lasted mere weeks.

Still, it was historic. The Countryside Cougars were among the first residents of Pinellas to use the county's new $6-million optical scan voting machines.

The machines, which are replacing the county's old touch screen machines, so far have seen action in a St. Pete Beach city election in March and at several other high schools. But they're still a novelty, and elections officials roll them out to give students some hands-on encouragement to become voters of the future.

Mostly, it worked.

The mood was good.

Election day tension was negligible.

Everything, in fact, went smoothly until 16-year-old Jessica Rose Powell walked into the polling place just outside the auditorium.

That's when the trouble began.

The sophomore had filled in ovals next to her selections, then walked to Pinellas County's new optical scanner — the same machine adult voters will use in August and November — and put the paper in facedown as she was directed.

To her dismay, the scanner spit it back at her.

She tried again.


"It doesn't like me!" she said.

"Talk to it,'' said one of the teens in line behind her.

"Nice machine,'' said Powell, trying again.

Again the scanner quickly ejected it.

It almost seemed like it was sticking a big white tongue out at her.

"What's wrong with me?" she asked.

"You broke it,'' said a classmate.

An official with the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections came to the rescue and examined the ballot. She discovered Powell had not broken the scanner and that the machine bore no ill will toward her. Alas, there was something wrong with the printing on the paper.

Powell was given another one. She filled it out and put it in the scanner.

"Go, go, go,'' the students chanted.

This one was accepted.

To her delight she was given two "I Voted'' stickers for her trouble.

About 420 freshmen, sophomores and juniors showed up out of about 1,500 eligible voters to select a sophomore class secretary, junior class president, junior class vice president and senior class president to begin serving in the fall.

Officials from the Supervisor of Elections Office watched over them as they used the county's new optical scan voting equipment to make their choices.

Sophomore Taylor McClure, 15, sent her ballot successfully through the scanner on her first try. It popped out the back and dropped into a box.

"It was really easy and fast, simple and not stressful,'' she said. "If we can do it, I'm sure (adults) can do it.''

Chris Settle, 35, Countryside High's student government faculty adviser, worked to get students excited about voting and having the scanner at the school Tuesday helped.

"To do elections exactly as the adults do adds a little extra flavor,'' Settle said.

The issues weren't as critical as gas prices, the economy or Iraq, but perhaps equally as important to these teens: fundraising to pay for prom, expanding senior privileges and choosing what senior class gift to buy.

Daniel Mineo, 15, who was running against Bethany Goodman, 16, and Catie Munns, 16, for junior class president, was optimistic about his chances.

"I've been freshman and sophomore class treasurer, so I'm the candidate with the most experience,'' he said. "I feel like I can step it up and head the class.''

When Mineo was born, Bill Clinton was serving his first year in office as president.

Since then, there has been only one other president in his life. That's why he would like to see Obama win.

"It's time for a change,'' Mineo said. "If something doesn't change in this country, we won't be as powerful as we are now.''

Katherine Eckley, 17, a candidate for senior class president, said she is also supporting Obama mostly because of "his stance on the war.''

"He wants to bring the troops home,'' she said. "I think it's time.''

Goodman, who also follows national politics closely, is supporting a different candidate.

"I'm a conservative person so I like John McCain,'' she said.

But back to the Countryside High election.

Chris Primiani, 16, was elected senior class president; Catie Munns was elected junior class president; Megan Hays, 15, was chosen junior class vice president; and Stephanie Feola, 15 was selected sophomore class secretary.

Mineo said the most important thing about the election was getting students to vote.

"A lot of students just don't care,'' he said. "It's not really a big issue for them. As long as there's a prom and there are things to do, they don't care how it gets done. You have to get involved. It's our right to vote. Why waste it?''

Eileen Schulte can be reached at or (727) 445-4153.

Pinellas' new voting machines put to early test 05/06/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 7, 2008 3:42pm]
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