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County could purchase new election equipment

 

The DS200 electronic scanner captures digital images of all ballots scanned, allowing for improved processing of problematic ballot markings. Lowndes County officials estimate the cost of a scanner to be in the $5,000 to $6,000 and plan to purchase 25 of the scanners.

The DS200 electronic scanner captures digital images of all ballots scanned, allowing for improved processing of problematic ballot markings. Lowndes County officials estimate the cost of a scanner to be in the $5,000 to $6,000 and plan to purchase 25 of the scanners.
Photo by: Courtesy photo/Election Systems & Software

 

 

Nathan Gregory

 

Lowndes County voters will likely be casting paper ballots again when they go to the polls either next year or in 2015.  

 

When county supervisors passed next year's budget last week, they allocated $248,300 for circuit elections -- $89,350 more than was budgeted last year. 

 

A portion of that, combined with more than $50,000 in saved election appropriations from the Mississippi Secretary of State's office, could be applied toward purchasing 25 DS200 scanners that would be used to tally paper ballots across the county's 22 precincts, according to Lowndes County Circuit Clerk Haley Salazar.  

 

The county will likely advertise for bids next year, but Salazar estimates the cost of one DS200 to be in the $5,000-6,000 range. 

 

According to the website VerifiedVoting.org, a non-profit voting rights organization, the voting equipment consists of a 12-inch touch screen with a tabulator that prints out voter logs providing election officials with paper tallies. A scanning device captures digital images of all ballots scanned, allowing for improved processing of problematic ballot markings. 

 

The county has used TSX electronic voting systems since 2005. Mississippi received federal funding for the TSX systems as well as maintenance and technical support beginning with elections in 2005. Salazar said that funding will no longer be provided. Between that and the amount of time it takes to process absentee ballots with the current voting system, going back to paper ballots would be a step forward in terms of accuracy, efficiency and timeliness, Salazar said.  

 

"Say a precinct has several hundred absentee ballots, which is not unusual...They're all cataloged (at the courthouse) and they go out in the different precinct boxes. At the end of the day the poll workers take them out and they have to rule on the validity of the ballot," she said. "They're picked up and they're brought back up here. Then we have to physically check in that box and make sure that all those ballots are accounted for that went out and make sure we've got them all back. Then they have to be opened and run through a scanner. That's what's taking so long to get our election results." 

 

Under the proposed change, poll workers would be able to scan absentee ballots themselves, and any ballot that would not properly run through the scanner would be packaged up and returned to the courthouse for the county election resolution board to evaluate.  

 

"With (the current) system the resolution board is not only having to do that, but they're having to open and run them all through and if one doesn't run through they have to stop and recreate it," Salazar said. "Some people may see this as moving backwards because you're going to paper. I don't think so. This is the trend now. More and more counties are starting to look at this." 

 

If the new equipment is purchased and implemented into next year's election, voters would use them to cast their ballots for congressional and local judicial office candidates. 

 

One manufacturer of the system, Election Systems & Software, has successfully gotten counties in several states, including New York, Maine and Florida, to purchase scanning systems for elections. After the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that about 10 percent of the machines being used in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, failed pre-election tests, the Election Assistance Commission noted the machine should not be certified if technical errors were not corrected. This past May, the EAC certified the system as meeting its guidelines. 

 

On the state level, Hinds County District 4 election commissioner Connie Cochran said her county has just purchased DS200 systems which will be used for the first time this November. 

 

Lowndes County District 1 election commissioner Larry Chappell said the systems would be simpler to train poll workers to use. 

 

"We have to depend on citizens for poll workers and they don't do that every day," Chappell said. "You and I could probably use a computer or smartphone and get by on a daily basis. But there are a lot of people who don't do that in this country, and it's no reflection on them." 

 

Salazar said she and election commissioners would keep voters informed about the use of the new machines and how they work if they are purchased. 

 

"We're making the decision we feel is best. We'll have plenty of voter outreach. The public will be very informed," Salazar said. "We've always been at the forefront and we're not going to put something out there that does not have 100 percent accountability."

 

Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.

 

 

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