January 11, 2001 9:10 AM PST

Unisys enrolls Microsoft, Dell to build better ballots

Where political pundits saw a near constitutional crisis during the presidential vote-counting fiasco in Florida last year, some leading technology companies are seeing a golden opportunity.

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High-tech aims to relieve voter frustration
Kevin Curry, Unisys general manager
Unisys, a maker of mainframe computers, announced Thursday that it is teaming up with Microsoft and Dell Computer to create a technology-based system that could replace what many call antiquated ballot-counting machines now scattered across the country.

Unisys, based in Blue Bell, Pa., will act as an integrator of the various technologies that will be used to create the voting system. Dell will supply the computers, touch-screen monitors and keyboards, while Microsoft will create the software to operate the system, a Unisys representative said.

This coalition is one of the more recent efforts announced. It will face a slew of players--from start-ups that focus solely on voting systems to other tech giants such as IBM--which are also salivating at the opportunity to replace the much-maligned systems now in use.

Only a week after last year's presidential election, Cisco Systems and Compaq Computer were among those who pumped $10 million into Bellevue, Wash.-based VoteHere.net, bringing the start-up's total funding to $15 million. The company makes secure online voting systems.

Last fall's tight presidential race between Al Gore and George W. Bush and doubts about the accuracy of the vote count in Florida and elsewhere led to an election night that dragged on for 36 days and as far as the U.S. Supreme Court. Bush finally won Florida's electors by a margin of only 537 votes.

The turmoil led to angry calls from federal, state and local officials as well as voter organizations to overhaul the election process, which today includes mechanical methods such as punch-card systems and paper ballots, and to a lesser degree optical scanning systems.

 

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