Hall County voters will not see the state’s new voting machines when they head to the polls Tuesday, Nov. 5, but county elections officials are preparing for the rollout of the touchscreen machines for the presidential primary March 24.
The county is set to receive 489 machines from the state, likely in January, Elections Director Lori Wurtz said. Georgia is spending $106 million statewide on the new machines from Dominion Voting Systems, which has provided machines for several other states, including Colorado, Louisiana and Nevada.
With the new system, when a voter arrives at the polling place, he or she will first check in with a poll worker using a touchscreen tablet called a “poll pad.” The tablet will scan the voter’s license, and the poll worker will verify the voter’s eligibility. Then, the voter will get a special access card to insert into the voting machine. The voter then makes selections and clicks “print ballot.” A printer at the polling station will produce a paper ballot with the voter’s choices marked for review. Once the voter has reviewed choices, he or she will feed the ballot into a scanner, and the ballot will be kept in a locked box for storage.
Wurtz said voters must be sure to feed their ballot into the scanner, and a poll worker will be stationed by the scanner to check that all votes are counted.
“Printing is not casting your ballot. The ballot is actually considered cast when you run it through the scanner on the way out the door,” she said.
The county has received some components of the new voting system, which are on display at the elections office at the Hall County Government Center. Voters can view the touchscreen machine, the printer and the ballot scanner that will be used.
Some components of the system, including the poll pad, the box that stores printed ballots and kits available for disabled voters, have yet to be sent from the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office.
A state law passed earlier this year and supported by all of Hall’s delegation laid out specifications for new voting machines. It called for a system with which voters could make selections on a screen, then print a ballot to be scanned. The current system has been in use statewide since 2002.
Paige Thompson, Hall’s elections coordinator, has used the machine in a test run with the Secretary of State’s Office. She said the process is a little quicker than current practices, and the larger screen will be easier to read for some voters. Thompson said the kits for disabled voters that will come with the new machines are more user-friendly, too.
“Currently, our voters with disability kit is a keypad and a headset. You have to really listen to what the instructions are on what numbers you need to push, pound signs,” Thompson said. “But on the new system, it almost looks like a game controller. It has left and right arrows, up and down arrows and an X. It’s a lot easier for the voters to use, and it does still have a headset.”
Voters in Bartow, Carroll, Catoosa, Decatur, Lowndes and Paulding counties have been using the new machines in municipal elections this year as part of a pilot program.
The machines were also used in a straw poll at the Georgia National State Fair this year, with voters choosing peaches as their favorite Georgia-grown food in a mock election with more than 3,700 ballots cast.
Poll workers will be trained on the new technology and will be available to help voters with the machines. Hall is also considering hosting open houses for voters to try out the machines before casting their ballots.
“We will be doing extensive poll worker training, and we will have poll workers who will receive specialized training in all the different areas, so that they can be stationed along the way to help,” Wurtz said.
The county is currently hiring poll workers for the March election, and anyone interested can call the elections office at 770-531-6945 to sign up. About 400 to 500 poll workers will be needed.
Wurtz and Thompson also attended a two-day training session in Calhoun to learn about the technology, and Dominion Voting Systems will be visiting every Georgia county for special training as well. Wurtz said Dominion’s visit to Hall has not been scheduled yet.