Demise of the punch card

At least 30 towns in Massachusetts are making a decision similar to Weymouth’s on replacing their punch-card systems. Secretary of State William Galvin is urging towns to update their voting technology, which has intensified competition between the two leading companies in the field, Texas-based Business Records and LHS Associates, Inc., of Methuen.

Weymouth clerk Franklin Fryer said early this year he expected the two leaders to bid on the contract to supply 20 new “optical scanner” machines to the town (one for each of the 18 precincts and two for backup). The machines cost about $6,000 each.

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Ken Hajjar, director of sales and marketing at LHS, said his company’s “Accu-Vote” allows the voter to fill in an oval on a paper ballot–“like on a lottery card.” The ballot is then tabulated by an optical scanning machine at each precinct. Mr. Hajjar said the much-publicized recounts in 1996 (there was one in the 6th Congressional district, as well as the 10th) have generated greater interest in his company’s machines. “I think this fiasco this last year has accelerated the demise of punch-cards,” he said.

“Oh, that’s a crock! He says that because he wants to sell his machines,” said Frank Fitzpatrick, the head of Newton-based EVM Company, which has been a leading supplier of punch-card systems. Mr. Fitzpatrick insists the new technology is a waste of money and that the punch-card system is still superior, especially in handling long ballots.

At the same time, Mr. Fitzpatrick expresses doubt about his company’s future. “We’ve been at it for 30 years now. Who knows what we’ll do? Maybe we’ll drive off into the sunset.”