Residents Try New Voting Machines in Traverse City, Mich.

New ExpressVote machines are sought to be a universally accessible way for voters to cast a ballot.

by Jordan Travis, The Record-Eagle / June 29, 2018
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(TNS) — TRAVERSE CITY, MICH. — There's a new way for voters to fill out a ballot in Grand Traverse County, Mich., and Traverse City officials showed a few curious people how the equipment works.

City clerk's office employees rolled out new ExpressVote machines Thursday afternoon, along with new vote-counting machines and some mock ballots — questions included picking a favorite Michigan sports team. A few people came through during the open house's first 90 minutes to give them a try.

Among them were Susan Odgers and her husband Tom Mair, both city residents. Odgers said she thinks the new voting equipment is intuitive and simple, and should be easier for both voters and poll workers. She believes people may be more willing to vote in person if they knew how streamlined the process is.

Odgers is a strong advocate for disability rights and said she likes the fact that the ExpressVote machines are designed to be universally accessible. She uses a wheelchair and once helped the state vet a previous machine designed to similar ends.

"I think that it's a profound message to say that everybody matters to the degree that we have created the technology to really speak volumes about that, that a lot of effort has gone forth to make all of this come together, and that really touches my heart," she said.

Voters can use a variety of inputs to fill out a ballot, including a touch screen, Braille remote with headphones and sip-and-puff machine for those who can't use their hands, according to a release from the city. They can review their picks when they're done, then print out a paper ballot that's fed into the vote-counting machine.

Traverse City election workers have used tech aimed to help voters with disabilities before, but ExpressVote is easier to use, city Clerk Benjamin Marentette said. And any voter can use it, not just those with disabilities.

Marentette, who served on an advisory panel to help develop the state's new voting system, said the ExpressVote also prevents people from making mistakes. They won't let a voter choose too many candidates for races where voters make multiple picks, for example. Nor will they let a voter choose more than one party's candidates for partisan primaries — the new tabulators catch common slip-ups on paper ballots filled by hand, too.

City resident Al Quick said he thinks ExpressVote may be a little more challenging for older voters or the non-tech savvy, but thinks they'll do OK with help from poll workers. He's concerned that it takes a few more steps to write in a candidate compared to filling out a paper ballot by hand, but likes that it's accessible.

"I think anything that we can do to increase the number of people that vote is wonderful," he said.

Most of the changes to the voting process are behind the scenes, Marentette said — changes to pre- and post-election reporting requirements are a few examples listed in a city release. The average voter will hardly notice a difference.

"I think most people feel really comfortable with this transition to the new equipment," he said. "We're really excited about it, and we're looking forward to its smooth implementation."

©2018 The Record-Eagle (Traverse City, Mich.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.