As soon as next year, voters could be casting ballots on brand new voting machines.
The county is considering replacing its 15-year-old voting machines with a new version, which would record votes both electronically and on paper, a move many states are making.
The issue now is the cost, with the county needing to spend an estimated nearly $1.1 million on new voting machines. Officials have not yet discussed where the money for new voting machines would come from. When the county last bought new machines in 2003, the cost was more than $2.4 million and paid for with money from the county’s savings, spread out over several years.
But the cost is still high for the new machines and could change based on what the county buys and any trade-in amount for old machines, Johnson County Clerk Susie Misiniec said.
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This time, the county will need to buy fewer machines, since the county switched to vote centers allowing voters to cast a ballot at any of the centers around the county five years ago.
In 2003, the county purchased more than 450 voting machines, since multiple machines were needed at each of the voting sites for more than 100 precincts. This time, officials are considering buying 250 machines to be set up at the county’s vote centers, which have ranged from 17 to 21 sites in past elections, election officials said.
With the new system officials are considering, the county would need to buy multiple voting machines for each vote center, a scanner for each site, electronic pollbooks connected to printers to check in voters and a large tabulator to count early and mail-in ballots.
A tabulator alone is about $100,000. Each machine costs about $3,500, and multiple machines would be needed at the different sites. Each scanner would cost about $5,500. And each electronic pollbook with a printer costs about $2,000, though the county’s longtime vendor — Nebraska-based Election Systems & Software — offered to include those for free if the county buys a new system, company representative Jeremy Burton said.
The new system, which is being used or considered in multiple other counties including Howard, Henry and Marion counties and in several other states such as Maryland and Wisconsin, offers both touchscreen voting and a paper record, Burton said.
Here’s how it works:
Voters would check in using their identification with the electronic pollbooks.
Once a voter is checked in, a printer connected to the pollbook prints a blank paper ballot, with information on the precinct that voter lives in.
The voter inserts the paper ballot into the voting machine and makes their selections on a touchscreen. The machine then prints a ballot with their selections.
Before leaving the polling place, the voter scans their paper ballot into a scanner, which counts their votes and stores the paper ballot.
By using that system, the county can still tabulate the results electronically, using a memory stick in each scanner, but also has a paper record of every vote, such as for a recount, Burton said. And, as long as a voter’s information is correct in the statewide system, they will always get the right ballot, he said.
In the past, poll workers would pull up a voter’s ballot based on where they live and their precinct, but now the machine would do that automatically when printing the ballot.
The county will need to make sure to educate voters if a switch is made, reminding them to turn in their paper ballot to make sure their vote is counted, Commissioner Ron West said.
County officials have not yet decided if the county should switch to a new system, and would need to ask for proposals from companies if that decision was made, Misiniec said.
Here is a look at how the new voting system would work:
Check in: Voters show poll workers identification and it is scanned with the electronic pollbooks, which pull up each voter’s information.
Ballot: A printer connected to the pollbook prints a blank paper ballot, with information on the precinct that voter lives in.
Voting machine: The voter inserts the paper ballot into the voting machine and makes selections on a touchscreen.
Printed ballot: The machine then prints a ballot with the selections.
Scanning: Before leaving, the voter puts the paper ballot into a scanner, which counts the votes and stores the paper ballot.