The Forest Park Community Center will be sponsoring a seminar on Tuesday, Feb. 21 to explain numerous changes voters will encounter when they cast their ballots in the upcoming primary elections, scheduled for March 21.

The election will be the first during which voters will not use the traditional punch card system, and will be able to vote before election day.

Instead, voters will have a choice of using a paper optical scan ballot, described as similar to a standardized test. With this system, voters use a pen to mark the circle next to their choice of candidates printed directly on the paper ballot. They insert completed ballots into a machine that alerts them to possible errors.

Voters can also use an electronic touch-screen machine, which is similar to an ATM machine, according to the Cook County Clerk’s website. On this machine, intended for voters with disabilities, voters touch the names of candidates listed on a computer screen. Voters are then able to verify their votes on a secure paper audit trail before casting the ballot.

The machines, manufactured by Sequoia of California, also feature an optional audio ballot and keypad.

The two types of ballot machine were available for sample voting at the Oak Park main library last Saturday. Over one hundred people had taken advantage of the opportunity over the first three hours.

“They’ve been very enthusiastic,” said Board of Elections worker Linda Lastowski of the public’s response to the new technology.

Board of Election officials expect that reaction will be the rule among voters this March.

“It should be a simple transition for voters,” said Langdon D. Neal, chairman of the Chicago Election Board, in a press release. “The systems are actually easier to use than the old punch cards.”

Voters in this year’s election will also be able to vote on early voting dates scheduled for Feb. 27 and March 16. Voters can cast an early ballot either at the Clerk’s downtown Chicago office, 69 W. Washington St., Room 500, or at Forest Park Village Hall.

Hours and locations of early village sites will be posted at

Also new this year is a grace period for voter registration after the end of the regular registration period on Feb. 21. Voters will be able to register at the Clerk’s downtown office until March 7.

Representatives from the Cook County Clerk’s Office will be on hand at the Community Center, 7640 Jackson Blvd., to demonstrate and answer questions regarding the new voting machines as well as early voting procedures.

More information about the changes this election year is also available by calling 312/603 0906.

“Seth Stern