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Washington County rolls out new voting machines

Washington County Commissioner Autumn Lehrke tries the county’s new electronic voting machines last week. (Bulletin photo by Riham Feshir)

Washington County commissioners got to vote on their favorite ice cream flavor, best vocal artist and top auto manufacturer last week.

The County Board tested a new electronic voting machine that automatically recognizes errors and will be used at all 88 precincts during primary and general elections beginning this year.

The county approved the purchase of the new equipment for $732,900 last month. All 90 machines will arrive by June.

Commissioners fed in fake ballots at their meeting last week where they purposely filled in multiple ovals to check the machine’s accuracy. Board Chair Autumn Lehrke said she couldn’t decide on one ice cream flavor so she picked a couple.

The machine spit out her ballot and asked her to either return or accept the ballot anyway.

In the case of multiple votes, the machine recognizes errors and allows the voter to return and re-vote using a new ballot.

But if the voter chooses to accept the ballot with multiple votes, every race on the ballot counts except for the one with multiple ovals filled.

The new machines have much larger touch screens, making it easier for election judges to set up for the day and simpler for voters as well, said Carol Peterson, who oversees elections in the county.

But they’re not completely free of human interaction.

“The primary looks different,” Peterson said.

If a voter casts crosses between Republican and Democrat lines during primaries, for example, the machine will recognize the error and return the ballot.

“Previously they had to work with an election judge when it was returned,” she said, noting that the new machines are self-explanatory but a judge will still be on hand for assistance with new ballots.

“The voter actually would see the message, it does not leave until that message is addressed,” she said. “It’s going to allow them to make that correction themselves.”

The new machines will not differ much from the old ones in the way they count write-ins.

They will recognize the number of ovals filled for write-in names, but those names still have to go through a hand-counting process by election judges.

“Some people might take it seriously and have someone who’s interested,” Peterson said. “But you get a number of them that are for Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck.”

The new machines will be used at all Washington County precincts.