Guilford County, N.C., Voting System Moves into Final Stage

After what seemed to be a successful test run in High Point’s municipal elections, Guilford County officials are moving ahead with final vetting and planning for the switch to hand-marked ballots.

by Taft Wireback, News & Record / November 7, 2019

(TNS) — After what seemed to be a successful test run in the High Point, N.C., municipal elections, Guilford County, N.C., officials are moving ahead with final vetting and planning for the switch to hand-marked ballots.

Charlie Collicutt, the county’s elections director, said his office will do both manual and electronic audits of Tuesday’s returns from the new system’s daylong test at Precinct H27-B during the High Point election.

“A bipartisan team will do it by hand” and compare their findings to the results provided by the test equipment, Collicutt said.

His office also plans to use another piece of electronic tabulating equipment to do a second recount of the H27-B returns as a fail-safe measure, he said.

County officials decided to move away from the touchscreen technology now in use and switch to a system of hand-marked, paper ballots that are thought to instill greater voter confidence in election outcomes.

A new state law takes effect next month, requiring the use of voting systems that use paper ballots and banning the type of touchscreen system that Guilford, Mecklenburg and several other North Carolina counties have used for years.

Guilford elections personnel tested the hand-marked voting system by Election Systems & Software Inc., which was chosen last month by the county Board of Elections. Tuesday’s test followed regulations that allow such sampling at one precinct in an actual election before county government commits to buying new equipment.

Collicutt said that 137 voters had cast ballots Tuesday at Deep River Friends Meeting in northern High Point. That added up to relatively light turnout in a precinct that includes roughly 2,000 registered voters, but Collicutt said he believed it was sufficient to provide an assessment.

In rough terms, Collicutt said the change to a new system should cost somewhere in the range of $3 million — significantly less than the $8 million that had been estimated for buying another touchscreen system that would meet the new law’s requirement to use paper ballots.

But unlike the current touchscreen system, the new hand-marked option requires printing thousands of additional paper ballots every election, which Collicutt said would add significantly to the costs of future elections.

The current system did not impose such costs because ballots are prepared digitally for display on touchscreen voting terminals.

One cost that still needs to be refined for the new system stems from its use of “privacy enclosures,” portable cubicles that ensure voters can make their selections in secrecy.

About a half dozen different types of enclosures were deployed Tuesday at H27-B. Collicutt said the enclosures range in cost from $75 to $300 each, depending on design and quality.

The county would need enough enclosures to equip 165 precincts.

Under the new system, voters go to an enclosure and fill out multiple-choice ballots in blue or black ink. They then feed each page into a computerized tabulator that scans it, adds up the votes and preserves the ballot in a sealed storage cabinet.

Collicutt said that poll workers at Deep River Friends Meeting encountered two voter mishaps Tuesday that would not be out of the ordinary after the new system is deployed across the county.

One voter selected too many candidates in one of the High Point contests, triggering an “over vote” message from the tabulator. In the other, a voter made some random marks on a ballot that the machine could not read and that also triggered an error report.

The system functioned as it should have in both cases, Collicutt said, and the voters were given an opportunity to vote properly after the erroneous ballots were voided.

©2019 the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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