When you go to vote next week, or if you took advantage of early voting, you may have noticed something different since participating in Massac County’s last election in April 2021.
The Massac County Clerk’s Office has new tabulating equipment
Now the machine, emphasized Doug Simpkins, an election vendor with Governmental Business Systems, isn’t that different from what voters are used to, but, “we hope it will make the day easier for the judges and the voters,” he said. “We’re trying to make it simple and accurate. Voters may not even notice anything different.”
Simpkins discussed the new machinery at the election school held for the county’s election judges on June 3. He noted that it has been used in other states, including in McCracken County for about a year, but next week’s primary will be the first time it’s being used in Illinois as Massac and seven other counties use it.
Simpkins told the election judges “there have been a lot of changes over the last 15 years.” This equipment is the result of the 2000 presidential election.
“A company called Hart, outside of Houston, Texas, is the manufacturer. They’ve been in the election business for over 100 years. They know what they’re doing,” Simpkins said. “From 2000, after the Bush/Gore presidential election, everybody got off punch cards, and it was a mad rush. Things were thrown together and the system after that was difficult for everybody — you had the touch screen you never touched. Hart took all of that knowledge and developed something that was going to be easy to use for the voter, easier for the election judges and easier for the election administration.”
There are a few slight changes. One is the size of the ballot, which is now the size of a legal sheet of paper. The other is voters will use a ballpoint pen, instead of a marker, to mark their candidate’s box. And that box is an actual box, no longer an oval. Simpkins said the tabulation equipment will detect an X, a check mark or the filling in of the box, but a percentage of the box must be filled.
“The box is 300 pixels and as long as they have 25 connected pixels, it’s going to count,” he explained.
Another new feature is the screen on the machine. The old tabulator had a barely visible screen to the right side. The new tabulator’s screen is about the size of an iPad, providing easy to read and understand instructions for the voter and, if needed, the election judge who’s there to assist.
“The screen will provide instructions, and it won’t go away until they remove the ballot. This is the part that makes it easier for the judge and the voter. We’re hoping it will provide more privacy for the voter,” Simpkins said.
The machine has extra security features, including the ability to kick out a ballot that either has too many candidates selected for an office or is totally blank. Simpkins noted the voter has the option to override the system; however, the ballot or contest will not be counted if it’s overvoted or blank. The voter also has the option of going to the election judge to spoil the ballot and vote again.
The tabulation machine has green landing lights with arrows directing voters where to insert their ballot. The ballot can go in the machine any orientation and be read. The screen will also display a photo telling how to insert the ballot.
The machine will also alert to the voter that the ballot has been read, or not. Voters will know their ballot is accepted when the machine plays a little tune and an American flag with the words “you’ve voted” pops up on the screen.
“Other than that, it’s a machine sitting on top of box that will count ballots as you go. Same as before, just a different version,” Simpkins said.
Election judges were instructed about another machine on June 3. This one is the Touch Writer voting system, which is ADA compliant. Simpkins noted the Touch Writer can provide instructions on how to use it.
Simpkins refers to the Touch Writer as a “very expensive pen” because it allows the voter to vote on the screen.
“It’s really nice for anyone with a vision problem. If they’re totally blind, they can used the ATI, which will talk them through the entire ballot,” he said.
The writing on the screen can be enlarged to the size needed for those with vision problems or they can the ATI (Audio-Tactile Interface) device to hear the candidate choices through the supplied headphones or their own. Those with hand mobility problems can use the ATI device, which has different shapes for users to push, to maneuver to and mark their choices.
The Touch Writer allows the voter to review their choices before printing the ballot; changes cannot be made once the ballot is printed, unless the voter wants to spoil that ballot. For the primary election, the completed printed Touch Writer ballot, which is called a voter-verified paper audit trial, will be on white paper, not the party colors for the election’s ballots.
That printed ballot will be placed by the voter in the tabulating machine to be counted with the other primary election ballots.
One big difference with the new tabulating equipment is dealing with write-in candidates.
Once the polls close at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 28, and the election judges shut down the equipment, one of the reports to be printed is for write-in candidates — there are four for precinct committeeperson and one for governor/lieutenant governor on the Republican ballot and the Democrat ballot.
Simpkins explained the tabulating machine takes photos of each of the write-in candidate positions. Those photos are printed on the write-in report. As in the past, they’ll be tallied by hand as in the past. He noted that only the names of the valid write-in candidates are counted.
The reports and machines’ USBs are then taken to the Massac County Courthouse for the tabulation of the final results.
“I think it’s going to be easier,” Simpkins said of the new machines. “We did an election in May in Indiana. It went really well. I talked to judges before and after. They said it was easy and went great. We’re really excited about it.”