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State and county election officials are banding together to oppose federal legislation that could force them to junk their new electronic voting machines.

House Resolution 811, sponsored by Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., would require that voting machines nationwide produce a durable paper trail.

Unlike those in 22 other states, Utah's new direct-recording electronic (DRE) machines - which cost about $27 million - do provide a paper record. Trouble is, the printouts from Utah's Diebold machines may not meet the bill's "durable" standard.

"What we have now looks like a cash-register tape," Arie Van De Graaff, legislative analyst for the Utah Association of Counties, said Monday. "That would no longer be acceptable in a federal election."

The technology for DREs to produce a durable ballot has yet to be developed, he added.

According to the U.S. House Web site, delaying changes beyond the 2008 election for states that lack paper ballots would diminish the public's trust in the democratic process. However, the bill would allow Utah and other states that use thermal reel-to-reel printers until 2010 to make the necessary changes.

"The whole discussion is about what's durable and what's not," said Scott Hogensen, Summit County's chief deputy clerk.

Hogensen helped Utah comply with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), a feat accomplished by the 2006 general election in which the state switched to electronic machines.

Hogensen worries that Holt's bill would "make it so hard to use our new machines that we'd have to switch to optical-scan equipment."

"They'd be requiring us to throw away the system we spent five years and [$27 million] on," he said.

Joe Demma, the lieutenant governor's chief of staff, agreed Utah's system works well and warned against a one-size-fits-all mandate handed down from Washington.

However, the Web site for the grass-roots Utah Count Votes decries the state's current system.

Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen joined her counterparts from Utah's 29 counties in signing a May 1 resolution opposing HR811.

"The bill has good ideas," she said, "but maybe takes it too far when we don't have the technology yet to support the change."

What's next

County commissions in Davis and Utah counties are expected to pass resolutions today opposing the federal election measure.