Tuesday, May 21, 2013
By PAUL KOENIG Kennebec Journal
During the 2008 presidential election, Belgrade Town Clerk Cheryl Cook and her election crew counted ballots by hand until 5:30 a.m.
Chelsea Town Clerk Lisa Gilliam runs a test on the town’s new electronic vote-counting machine, one of 65 provided to smaller Maine municipalities as a result of the 2002 Help America Vote Act.
Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal
So it's no surprise she's excited about the new electronic ballot counting machine the town will have this year.
"It's quite a move forward, I think, for the town," she said.
With 2,495 registered voters in Belgrade, Cook said she usually had eight to 10 pairs of people counting ballots. She expects to need only half as many this year.
Cook and other clerks statewide are saved from laborious hand-counting into the wee hours thanks to funding from 2002's Help America Vote Act. Nearly all Maine municipalities with at least 1,300 registered voters will use electronic balloting-counting machines Nov. 6.
Megan Sanborn, spokeswoman for the Department of the Secretary of State, said a few towns with more than 1,300 voters opted not to have one of the machines.
Maine is leasing the machines for five years from Election Systems & Software in Nebraska with no additional cost to the municipalities, she said. Sanborn said there isn't a plan yet for what the state will do when the lease expires in five years.
Of the 65 municipalities receiving the machines, 62 were still hand counting election ballots – a process that left many election officials counting well past midnight, Sanborn said.
"People were getting tired, and it just wasn't as productive as it could be," she said.
The hand-counting involves teams of two election clerks of different party affiliations counting the ballots to double-check the results. Some municipalities have as many as 20 pairs counting on election night, Sanborn said.
The additional machines bring the total of Maine municipalities using electronic counting machines to around 184, while around 330 municipalities still count ballots manually, according to Sanborn.
The state plans to upgrade the roughly 120 municipalities already using machines by March with the same model towns are getting for this election.
The Election Systems & Software model being leased, DS200, has an accuracy rate of 99.99 percent, according to Sanborn. The machine's scanner records an image of both sides of the ballot and saves it on a flash drive, which is returned to the state after the election.
Chelsea Town Clerk Lisa Gilliam said she used the ballot-counting machines when she was Winthrop town clerk.
After hand counting for a local election in March and the primary in June, Gilliam said she's pleased Chelsea has a machine, especially with the high turnout expected for the presidential election.
She expects to leave by 9:30 p.m. election night, even with a separate municipal ballot that has to be hand counted.
While the machines will make a significant difference to election clerks, the only difference voters will see is the box they're inserting the ballot into.
Voters will mark their ballots the same way they did in the past and then insert them into the machine, which will alert voters if they filled in too many circles for a race or not enough.
After the machine gives them the OK, "we put a sticker on you that says you voted and off you go," Gilliam said.
Ballots with write-in votes will be sorted separately and election clerks will manually record them after polls close, Gilliam said.
The machines will print out a receipt with a tally of total ballots and the results for each race and clerks will then compare the physical number of ballots to the machine's total to ensure it registered all ballots, Gilliam said.
Before the election, Gilliam said she and other election officials will test the machine by inserting ballots with any possible result, like overvotes, undervotes and different markings. She said the new machines will record a vote even if a voter just makes an X or check mark in the box.
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