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Melrose, Mass., Approves New Voting Machines

Voters will get an upgrade of technology when they go to the polls in Nov., the move will not affect the actual ballots used to cast votes, only the machines that tabulate them.

by Conor Powers-Smith, Wicked Local North / September 6, 2017
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(TNS) -- Perceptive Melrose voters may notice new technology when they go to the polls Nov. 7, after the city approved the replacement of its voting machines. The move will not affect the actual ballots used to cast votes, only the machines that tabulate them.

The city will draw just short of $100,000 from the Capital Stabilization Fund to replace its existing AccuVote machines, in use for over two decades, with the newer ImageCast Precinct Tabulator in all 14 precincts. Both machines are provided by LHS Associates, of Salem, N.H.

"Our voting machines are over 20 years old, they're breaking down at each election, so it's time for us to look into new ones," said Elections Commissioner Linda-Lee Angiolillo.

The city's bid for new machines received only one response, Angiolillo said, from LHS, which had provided and serviced its AccuVote machines. The ImageCast is the updated version of the same machine, she added; AccuVote machines are no longer manufactured.

Angiolillo said LHS has been highly responsive in the past, aided by its close proximity.

"During the past when our other machines have gone down, they were here within an hour, and they had new machines for us," she said.

Voters may not notice even notice the new machines, which will accept paper ballots just as the old ones did. Depositing your ballot may take slightly longer, though, since the new machines will actually scan them on site.

"It is a little slower, but that's because it's scanning it now, that's the new technology," Angiolillo said. "Would it matter? Only during probably a presidential election, it may slow things down a smidge, but we have early voting. This year it was so much easier on Election Day."

The city will order a total of 15 machines, one for each precinct plus an extra to be deployed as needed.

"We should always have an extra one in case something happens, because during the past few years, as we have learned, we've had to pay LHS to come down with extra machines and be there for when the machines break down," Angiolillo said.

The new machines account for $83,500 of the total price tag of $97,900, with the remainder going to purchase new, sturdier booths for voters to fill out their ballots in.

"Those old rickety ones that we have, that are probably older than the 20 years of the voting machines," Angiolillo said. "I have no idea how old they are, but we're afraid they're going to fall apart."

Another piece of new technology may also make an appearance in November.

"They are currently looking into these machines that are called Poll Pads," said Angiolillo. "It's going to take the place of the check-in and check-out books. LHS is waiting for the state to approve them, and they're hoping that for the November election we can test them out."

The new devices, basically dedicated tablets, could lessen the workloads of volunteers at the polls.

"All the results would come back to me," said Angiolillo. "I could tell you at 12 noon how many people turned out to vote in each precinct. We could keep track. It would stop the poll workers from having to count. The numbers would automatically be there."

She said LHS could use Melrose and other communities to try out the new system, although paper check-in books would still be available.

"It's wonderful technology, it just hasn't been approved for the state of Massachusetts yet," she said. "If they get approval, they would like to use us as one of the test sites."

Alderman Monica Medeiros stressed that the new machines would not replace traditional ballots.

"These will continue to have a paper ballot, so we will always have that as an option in case, God forbid, we need a recount, we've got paper ballots to work off of," she said. "We don't need to worry about information disappearing into cyberspace or anything like that."

The Board of Aldermen approved the expenditure at a special meeting Aug. 31, called specifically to deal with the issue in order to provide enough time to install the new machines by November.

©2017 Wicked Local North, Danvers, Mass. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.