Breckenridge Texan

Stephens County to use new, more secure ballot boxes for upcoming election

Stephens County to use new, more secure ballot boxes for upcoming election
October 08
12:00 2020

By Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan

When Stephens County voters start going to the polls next week, they will deposit their ballots into new computerized ballot boxes that the county purchased to ensure that the election process is secure.

On Wednesday afternoon, Christie Latham, the Stephens County Elections Administrator and Tax Assessor-Collector, demonstrated the new ballot boxes, as well as a new machine that will help some disabled voters mark their ballots.

“I’m really excited,” she said about the new system. “And, I don’t want the people to be afraid of it.”

Latham said the new machines were purchased with a federal grant after the county failed an election security assessment – along with about 75 percent of the other counties that were assessed. Although no fraud was discovered or suspected, the potential for a security problem was identified.

“It is secure,” Latham said about the new equipment. “There’s about 15 different places (on the machine) that you have to unlock and get to.”

The DS200

At the polls, voters will mark their ballots as usual, but instead of dropping their ballots into the blue boxes that have been used in the past, they will insert their ballots into a slot below a computer screen on the new machines. The DS200 is described by the Election Systems and Software company as a precinct-based ballot scanner and vote tabulator.

Stephens County Elections Administrator Christie Latham demonstrates the new DS200 with one of the ballots printed out by the ExpressVote ballot marking machine. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

It will scan the ballots and, if there are no problems with the ballot, the DS200 screen will tell the voter “Thank you for voting” and then drop the ballot into a locked box below. The voters’ choices will be instantly tabulated and the data stored on a USB flash drive in the machine.

If a voter has made some sort of a mistake on their ballot, such as marking two candidates for the same race, the DS200 will alert the voter and give them a chance to either request a new ballot to mark or to go ahead and submit the ballot with the mistake on it. If, for example, a voter chooses to submit a ballot with two candidates marked, the machine will accept the ballot but the vote in that particular race will not be counted.

At the end of the voting day, the election judges will remove the USB flash drives and the locked ballot boxes from the machines and take them to Latham.

The DS200s will be used for early voting, as well as on Election Day. Additionally, Latham has one that will be dedicated to counting Ballots-by-Mail, whether they are mailed in or dropped off at the courthouse by the voter.

“Basic voting procedures have not changed, it’s just that you’re putting (your ballot) into a fancy little machine that’s going to tell you ‘Thank you,’ instead of putting it in the blue box,” Latham said.

Latham said the election judges have been trained on the DS200 and will be available to assist any voter who needs help using the machine.

Click here to see a one-minute video by Election Systems & Software on how to use the machine.

The ExpressVote

The ExpressVote is a machine that assists voters who are vision-impaired or who have other disabilities with marking their ballots. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

The ExpressVote is a machine that is designed to assist voters who are blind, vision-impaired or have a disability that makes it difficult for them to mark a ballot. It takes the place of the old AutoMark ballot marking machine.

Although the ExpressVote is designed to help those with disabilities and is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Latham said the machine may be used by anyone.

To use the ExpressVote, voters can choose their preferred candidates by using headphones and a special keypad or by using the touchscreen monitor. They are given a chance to verify their votes and go back and correct any mistakes. Then, they print out a ballot, which is smaller than the hand-marked ballots but is still readable by the DS200.

The voter will then take that ballot to the DS200 ballot scanner detailed above.

There will be one ExpressVote machine per precinct.

Security

Throughout the election process, from the courthouse to the precincts and back to the courthouse, measures are in place to ensure that the votes are secure.

The flash drives and ballot boxes are in locked and sealed compartments that are verified and re-sealed by Latham and each election judge along each step of the delivery process.

Hacking of the system is unlikely because all of the data from the ballots is contained within the machine until it is time to transfer it to the main system at the courthouse. “Nothing is being transmitted through the internet or anything that somebody could intercept,” Latham said. “It’s all contained on the media stick (flash drive).”

She said she wants to assure voters that, for the ballots that reach her office either through the mail system or by being submitted in person, their votes are secure. “There’s no reason for anyone to be concerned about the ballot not counting or about ballots getting counted twice,” Latham said.

Also, if there is any kind of question about the electronic tabulation of the votes, the paper ballots are available to be counted by hand.

Benefits

Latham explained several benefits of the new machines, in addition to the security elements detailed in the above section.

The new system combines the security of paper ballots with the convenience of digital/instant tabulation, providing a back-up for confirming the votes, if necessary, while counting the votes more quickly than in the past.

Latham said she expects the waiting time for election results on Election Day to be much less than in the past.

“Being that this is the first time that we’ve used this equipment, we’re going to ask for a little patience with that, but I expect the waiting time to be cut in half,” she said.

Additionally, the system is designed with a secondary, temporary ballot box that can be used if the scanning part of the machine malfunctions in any way. In that situation, the election judge will open the insertion slot for the temporary ballot box, and voters can continue to submit their ballots. Then, once the malfunction is corrected, the ballots can be scanned in to the machine and automatically deposited into the main ballot box.

Another benefit of the system is that with the new ballot box/scanner: the voter can insert the ballot on either side and from either end. With the old system, the ballots all needed to be organized and inserted into the tabulation machine by Latham and her election staff in a specific manner. That’s why voters were asked to put their ballots into the box face up and top first. The DS200 can scan the ballots no matter which way they are inserted.

“You can put it in upside down or backwards, and it’s not going to matter. So, it’s really quicker, because (voters) used to sit there at the blue box and read (the directions for how to insert the ballot) and then they’d look at it and would be like, ‘I don’t know which way this goes in.’ This solves that problem.”

The Election

The new machines will be used during Early Voting and on Election Day.

Early Voting will take place Oct. 13-16, Oct. 19-23 and Oct. 26-30 at the Stephens County Courthouse from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, except for Oct. 29 and 30, when the polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Election Day will be Tuesday, Nov. 3. Voters will vote in their designated precincts.

 

Cutline, top photo: On Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 7, Stephens County Elections Administrator Christie Latham demonstrated the new DS200 , a ballot scanner and vote tabulator. The new machines will be installed at each precinct on Election Day and at the courthouse during Early Voting. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

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