Municipal voters who go to the polls Tuesday will be among the first to use the state’s new voting machines that combine technology with paper ballots.
One of the new machines is in the lobby of the Horry County Voters Registration and Elections Office on Fourth Avenue where folks can go to see how they work if they think they need to. Some people who are voting absentee have been using the new $52 million ExpressVote system.
Horry County precinct coordinator Sabrina Ray says the machines are getting good reviews so far.
“They’re paper as well as electronic. They’re efficient. They make customers feel like they have more control over their vote. As you see, they get to handle their ballot,” Ray said.
It actually takes two machines, plus paper to vote using the new system that was paid for and implemented by the State.
Horry County has 972 voting machines and 137 ballot collectors, according to county officials. That state’s figures put the counts at a few less.
After voters sign in at their precincts, they will each be given one strip of paper that must be fed into the voting machine.
The machine takes the paper and then displays the first race or issue to be decided on a touchtone voting screen. A voter touches his choice for that race and another touch sends the machine to the next question.
When all of a voter’s choices have been made, the machine puts them all back up with each choice showing.
If a voter has hit the wrong spot on the voting machine or changes his mind at that time, changing it is as easy as touching the screen again on the choice the voter wants to negate. It will go back and let him replace his choice.
When voters are happy with their choices, the machine returns their ballots and voters get another chance to review them.
Then they must take their papers showing their final votes to the ballot collector machine and insert their ballots there to be counted. If a ballot is not inserted into the collector, it will not be counted and it’s as if the voter never made his choices.
After the machine records the votes, the ballot is dropped down into an enclosed ballot box and does not come back out.
Ray says all of the people she’s spoken with who have already voted seem to like the machines.
They think the process is quicker and they like being able to handle their ballots, she said.
For Tuesday’s vote, each precinct will have an attendant onsite to help introduce people to the machines and make sure they don’t have any problems using them.
There will also be old-fashion paper ballots there for people who are having trouble with their identification or other challenges.
Ray says the best thing about the new system is there’s a paper trail to confirm all vote counts.
According to the S.C. Election Commission’s website, South Carolina’s old machines were purchased in 2004 and were approaching the end of their lives. Maintenance was becoming costly and replacement parts were hard to find.
The $52 million price tag included hardware, software, implementation, training and support.
S.C. Election Commission spokesperson Chris Whitmire said there were several more things his group wanted to buy to make the new system even more cutting edge that they didn’t get, and officials plan to go back to the General Assembly in 2020 to ask again.
They want more money for voter education, an electronic poll book that allows poll workers to verify voters using a laptop computer instead of the familiar computer printouts used in many places now. They also want “comprehensive robust audit items” that can help electronically certify election results.
He says there’s a huge movement today to use these “risk-limiting audits.”
Although Tuesday’s vote will be a first for the new machines in Horry, they have been used twice before in South Carolina.
Whitmire says the machines were used in the race for S.C. House District 84 in Aiken on Oct. 1.
Their second premiere came Oct. 15 in the City of Rock Hill’s municipal election.
As for Aiken, Whitmire said, “I can tell people the short story on that – It worked.”
He said there were no problems and election officials learned about procedures and how to train poll managers.
“Voters seemed to like it (the new system) and understood it. Nothing failed. It all worked,” he said.
Tuesday will be the first widespread use of the system when about 40 counties will use them to determine 180 elections. The next big test after that will be the Democratic Presidential Preference Primary Feb. 29, 2020, and then there will be the Presidential Election in November of 2020.
Whitmire said state officials divvied up the machines based on one for every 250 voters and then added 5 percent for growth and other extras. Vote scanners were allotted based on one per precinct plus 5 percent.
If a county had previously added more of the old machines at its own expense, the state also replaced those extra machines so no county ended up with fewer machines than they had before the changeover and some ended up with more.
Counties that want more machines now are welcome to buy them, Whitmire said.
Go to https://www.scvotes.org/new-voting-system-faqs for more information.