Paper trail

They all did what they are supposed to do

Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton The ES&S ballot marking marchine with the card it generates after voting.

On Thursday, Josh Cotton and I participated in an event at Warren Public Library.

We tested out some new voting machines.

Warren County will be purchasing new machines to be put into use no later than the 2020 Primary, and possibly as early as the 2019 General Election.

Pennsylvania is requiring voting systems that create some kind of paper trail. Warren County’s current machines do not do that.

So, there are a number of companies doing their best to sell their products to Warren County.

Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton Times Observer reporter Brian Ferry uses the Unisyn ballot marking machine. The machine had the smallest screen of the three, but allowed swiping up, down, left, and right. The screen appears black in the photo because of an optional security feature that prevents the screen from being seen from many angles.

On Thursday, three companies that provide machines that have been certified by the state got together at the library’s Slater Room to give demonstrations.

Most of the people that attended the event were poll-workers, presumably hoping to get a look at what they’ll be facing in the coming years.

They had slightly different interests than the Times Observer did. They cared about the systems that would deliver the paper trails to the courthouse, because, frankly, they’re the ones that will be toting all of that paper.

What Josh and I wanted to see was how the machines worked.

One of the options that the county commissioners will have to consider is hand-marked paper ballots. The companies at the library on Thursday have a stake in that, too. Each provider is willing to sell the county a limited number of touch screens with audio directions for visually impaired voters, and equipment that reads and tallies hand-marked ballots.

Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton Times Observer reporter Brian Ferry uses the Dominion ballot marking machine.

We did not fill out any paper ballots. Been there. Done that.

The other county option is to buy a bunch of ballot marking devices — touchscreen equipment that takes the voter through the races and records their choices. The difference between the new equipment and the current system is that the new devices create a piece of paper that the voter receives and, hopefully,

checks for accuracy, then drops into some kind of receptacle. The receptacle could be a reader that records the votes then drops the paper into a bin in case there is a need to recount, or it could be a temporary storage container that would be taken to a central location at the end of the night and all ballots from all precincts will be read by a machine there.

There were a lot of people around, so I didn’t hog the machines for long. I didn’t test to see exactly how far away from the target I could touch before the touchscreen did not accept my vote. I figure that’s not too important. If I’m trying to vote and I touch the screen and my candidate isn’t marked, I’ll try again.

The machines had a lot of similarities. I will focus on the differences.

The Dominion system had the largest screen. That’s a bonus.

The Unisyn system’s touchscreen was easily the smallest. But, it allowed for swiping. There was no need to touch a ‘next’ or ‘done’ button to move to the next screen. I’m not the most tech savvy person, but that was like using a smartphone. It hooked me and I struggled when I went to one of the other machines. Even scrolling up and down was a pain by comparison. If I had never used a swipe voting machine, it would not have been something I missed.

The ES&S (Election Systems and Software) machine was the only one that had me insert the piece of paper on which it printed my results. I think that will be popular.

I hesitate to mention that I failed to insert the paper properly the first five or more times, because I don’t want to be unfair to the equipment, which was labeled pretty clearly, and because I felt like an idiot when Josh took the paper and got it in on his first try.

Under no circumstances will voters receive some kind of receipt to take away with them. In every circumstance, voters will generate a piece of paper that they can look at to verify their votes are accurately represented. If they are not, the voter may take the paper back to the poll workers and ask to start over. When a voter is convinced that the paper matches their votes, that paper goes in the box.