Board green lights purchase of new voting equipment as election approaches

By: Michael Campbell, News Editor
Appeared In: September 6, 2017 edition

PRINCE GEORGE – Even though we are the midst of the last few weeks of summer, the fall season is at the forefront of the minds of those working at the Prince George Registrar’s Office as they prepare for the upcoming general election, which will feature a battle for the governor’s mansion.

As part of their preparations, the office has received the go-ahead from supervisors to move forward with the purchase of a dozen new voting units that will serve to enhance and further streamline the Election Day process for both poll workers and the voters.

During their lone meeting in August, supervisors approved the award of a contract to Election System and Software to provide 12 new scanning units that would be used to process paper ballots that have been voted by Prince George residents at a cost of just under $113,000.

The purchase comes as part of a state regulation detailed in the Code of Virginia that requires localities to purchase or lease electronic voting equipment by July 1, 2020.

For Prince George, the funding for this purchase was placed in the county’s Fiscal Year 2018 Capital Improvement Plan to allow the new machines to be deployed well ahead of the next presidential election on November 3, 2020.

According to Prince George County Registrar Katherine Tyler along with the county’s electoral board evaluated the machines that were eventually selected while looking at a number of others and agreed that the DS200 units were the best units to ensure ease of use by poll workers and voters and were reasonably priced.

Earlier this year, a demonstration of the units was presented to supervisors during an April work session where ES&S and PrintElect representative Tyler Lincks showed how the machines would work during an election.

The new system would remain very similar to the one used in the most recent elections where voters will cast their votes on a paper ballot. 

After a voter has completed their ballot, they will then be guided to the DS200 scanner unit, which will then take the paper ballot and feed it into a locked unit, both securing the original paper ballot and scanning a copy of the ballot as it is being ingested.  

At the end of the night, poll workers simply need to unlock the secured box where the paper ballots are stored after being scanned in over the course of the election day and seal them and, according to Lincks, with the unit scanning the ballots in as they are fed into the machine, “There is no need for the poll workers to have to do any secondary examinations of the ballots.”

Additionally, as part of the purchase, the county will be getting 12 units, with one of those DS200 scanner units serving as a backup in the event that a scanner unit does go down. During the springtime demonstration, officials said the backup unit could be housed in storage ready to use or have them with their technicians if they are on the move during the election, allowing them to be deployed more quickly if needed.

When asked by Supervisor Alan Carmichael, election officials assured leaders that this new technology will not slow down the Election Day process. 

“The only thing the voter will have to do is, once the voter puts the ballot it, the machine scans the ballot for about four to five seconds,” Tyler said. 

The purchase of the new machines comes only weeks before the deadline to get ballots ordered occurs in September. 

Additionally, during the discussion leading to the eventual approval of the new units, Tyler advised supervisors that there was a “good chance” the touchscreen units that are used for ADA-compliant voting are going to be withdrawn from certification.

According to the registrar, there is concern that the touchscreen units are susceptible to hacking, adding that it took “about 90 minutes” for someone to get into similar machines. She continued by saying at that time it was likely that the machines will be immediately withdrawn, but Tyler stressed this will have little impact on the county’s election efforts, saying, if the units are de-certified, there will not be an ADA-compliant solution at the polls this year and alternative measures will be taken.

Election Day in Virginia is scheduled for Tuesday, November 7.

Copyright 2017 by Womack Publishing
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