April 6, 2006

New Technology Ensuring Every Scotland County Vote Counts

Every vote counts. That’s what proponents like to tell prospective voters when they encourage us all to get out and vote. Well, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) has taken huge steps to ensure that every vote actually does count.

For the first time, voters in Scotland County got to witness the results of HAVA when they went to the polls April 4. While the bulk of the process remains unchanged, voters did receive a slightly different ballot, and were handed a special black pen to complete their voting. But the biggest change is the AccuVote Optical Scan machine, which has replaced the old fashioned ballot box.

This new technology has been put into place to insure that each vote is counted. The largest impact comes by insuring second chance voting. That doesn’t mean we get to vote twice, but it does mean that the machine scans each ballot for errors. When a mistake is detected, the ballot is immediately kicked back out to the voter, with a message describing the error. This allows the mistake to be corrected and insures that the ballot is counted. Previously, if an issue was miss-voted, it was not counted.

“We have already witnessed two or three instances of this, this morning,” stated Kathy McCoy of Henry A. Adkins & Sons, the company that installed the new machines. McCoy was on hand April 4th for the initial run of the eight machines.

The county installed an AccuVote Optical Scan at each of the seven voting precincts and one in the county clerk’s office for absentee ballots. In all the project cost a little more than $40,000 but was paid for by federal funding through HAVA.

In addition to insuring second chance voting, the new machines also make the counting process much simpler.

County Clerk Betty Lodewegen stated the new technology means much quicker results and also likely will save the county money in the long run as fewer election workers will be required for tabulating the votes. The lone manual tabulating is done on write-in candidates, which the machine separates from the other ballots to allow quick assessment by the counters.

Lodewegen stated this is the first of a two-part transition for the county elections. In August the county will install seven new Direct Recording Electronics machines, one in each precinct. These touch-screen electronic voting machines are handicapped accessible and offer larger print as well as audio assistance for those special conditions. However, the machines can be used by any voter, as they simply allow a ballot to be cast directly on the screen instead of with the paper ballot and a pen.

With more than 250 votes run through the machines by 10:00 a.m. on election Tuesday, the transition appeared to have been made quite smoothly.

“We did training last week and so far today we have had zero problems,” McCoy stated. “Not only are these machines very voter friendly, they also are election worker friendly.”

McCoy praised the quick transition made by Scotland County. She indicated her company has machines in 63 other counties and noted this was one of the smoothest changes she had worked on.

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