Official demonstrates voting machines

Madison County Quorum Court member Pattie Shinn submits her practice ballot as Tamitha Blocker watches. Poll worker Richard Gillham is at left.

Madison County Clerk Tamitha Blocker last Thursday demonstrated how the new voting machines will be used during early voting and the March 3 Primary Election.

The demonstration served as a meeting of the Madison County Election Commission. Members on hand were Austin Boatright, Larry Easterling and Gary Smith.

Also attending were a couple of poll workers; Wendy Pettz, a certified poll trainer; Diane Warren, a candidate for circuit judge, District 4, Division 8; and a few members of the voting public.

Blocker said the county last received new equipment in 2006, machines which had a lifespan of 8-10 years. Problems with the machines emerged in the 2016 General Election and during a special school election last year. Borrowed equipment from Sevier County allowed Madison County to make it through last year’s election.

“It’s still a paper ballot-based system,” Blocker said of the new machines. “There’s still a voter verified paper ballot that can be used for any recount or any kind of malfunction.”

The county no longer has to print ballots in advance, something  that has saved thousands of dollars, Blocker said.

Poll worker Richard Gillham demonstrated how a blank paper ballot will be printed out for a voter. The ballot will then be taken to a voting machine, where the person will cast votes. Finally, the ballot will be printed out with the votes, which then will be put in a tabulator machine.

The March 3 Primary Election and early voting will be the first time the new machines have been used. Madison County will use voting centers instead of dozens of voting precincts.

The voting centers will be at Hindsville First Baptist Church, Huntsville Missionary Baptist Church, the Kingston Community Building, the St. Paul Community Building and the Wesley Community Building.

Once a person votes, that information will be seen on the check-in equipment, in case they try to vote again at another center.

Registered voters in Madison County can vote at any of the new centers, regardless of where they live in the county. The voting centers will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on March 3.

Early voting will begin on Tuesday, Feb. 18, and run through Monday, March 2, at the courthouse. Hours will be 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays, Blocker said.

Each voting center will have two check-in machines, up to 12 voting machines, and one tabulator.

Blocker on Thursday demonstrated several features of the new voting machines. The height of the machines can be adjusted for someone in a wheelchair or someone needing to sit; the print on the screen can be enlarged; and the contrast can be changed to black and white for color-blind voters.

Once a person has voted, a “review screen” will appear. A voter can go back and change a vote if they wish. When finished, the voter will hit a “print card” button, which prints out the final ballot to go in the tabulator.

At the end of the night, poll workers will pull out a box from the tabulator and seal it with a thumb drive and other items inside. The poll workers will then drive the tabulator box to the courthouse, where the results will be known almost immediately from the thumb drive.

“We’ll have the elections results just about as quick as the poll workers can drive in,” Blocker said.

County crews will be responsible for delivery and pickup of the election equipment before and after election day.

Reducing the number of voting precincts to the five centers saved the county more than $80,000 that was used toward the new equipment.

Blocker said several people have come to her office for a look at the new equipment. So far, she said, she’s heard only positive comments.

“I’ve had younger ones, older ones. They come in a little skeptical but then once they’re able to see it and try it, they’re like ‘Oh that’s not bad, I like that.’ I haven’t had anybody angry with it yet,” she said.

Sample ballots for the Primary Election can be viewed at www.voterview.ar-nova.org. To see a demonstration of the new voting equipment, visit www.madisoncogov.com/elections.

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