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Be prepared for a few changes at polling sites

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Voters should expect to hand over their driver’s license to be scanned and sign a digital screen when they check in to vote today, but they likely won’t have to wait in a long line.

Thousands of residents are expected to visit one of 21 vote centers across Johnson County today to cast a ballot in the primary election, with all centers open from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m.

The way you cast your ballot won’t be different. All of the voting machines will look as they did the last time residents headed to the polls in 2012, Johnson County Clerk Susie Misiniec said.

But voters will notice some new equipment when they check in this year — at least those who come to the polls.

A few months ago Misiniec was hoping to have 20 percent turnout for this election. A low early voting turnout has her now hoping to exceed 10 percent overall turnout. A lack of contested local races is leading to a lower turnout, along with this year not being a presidential election, Misiniec said.

But residents do have some choices to make at the ballot box, such as who will be the Republican nominee for the first Superior 4 Court judge, along with contested races for county council, recorder and auditor nominations. Only a handful of Democrats are running for offices that represent Johnson County, including for Congress and state representative. But Republicans who win races today are not guaranteed to take office, since a Democrat could be slated to run after the primary, or an independent could file to run for office.

The few changes in the voting process this year will be noticed as soon as residents head into a vote center.

First, voters will have their driver’s license scanned to pull up their registration, which shows the poll worker the precinct and what ballot they should receive. The county bought the scanners in 2011 along with electronic poll books. The scanners were not used in the 2012 presidential election because poll workers were getting used to several other pieces of new equipment, such as electronic poll books, which were needed for vote centers.

Long lines could have formed had poll workers struggled using the scanners during the 2012 election, which was a presidential year with a 25 percent voter turnout for the primary election, Misiniec said.

The other new piece of equipment is one voters are likely familiar with. After their driver’s license is scanned, voters will sign their name on an electronic pad, similar to what would be used at a grocery store when people use a credit card to pay. The signature on that pad is kept on file much the same way the poll books would have been under the old system.

A voter might have to wait if their name is identical to another person, or the name on their driver’s license is slightly different from what is in voter registration records. If that happens, a poll worker will simply have to verify the birthday and address of a voter.

The county paid about $136,000 on equipment for vote centers, including the electronic poll books and digital signing pads, before the 2012 election. Beginning this year, the state now mandates the new electronic signing pads for all counties as a way to prevent voter fraud. The county paid about $4,200 for the 65 machines that were needed, Misiniec said.

In the long run, the county hopes to save money with vote centers. The county paid about $60,000 less for poll workers in the 2012 election compared with the 2010 election.

That amount likely will change in the future, depending on expected turnouts for elections. The county opened 21 vote centers today, but that number could change in future elections. For example, the county might add vote centers for the 2016 election because that year will be a presidential election year, Misiniec said.

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