Tuesday’s city and school elections are historic in more ways than one, Allen County Clerk Sherrie Riebel notes.
For starters, this year marks the first-ever fall city and school elections in Kansas, part of a recent law pushing the elections from April to November.
And for Allen Countians, the elections mark the first opportunity to use new ExpressVote machines.
The electronic machines are designed to streamline the voting and tabulation process for citizens and poll workers, Riebel said, as well as meet Americans With Disabilities Act requirements.
The ExpressVote devices will be used at each of the five polling places in Allen County — two at Iola’s Bass Community Hall, two at Humboldt Methodist Church and one each at Gas City Hall, LaHarpe Senior Center and Moran Senior/Community Center.
Voters will be given the option of using either the traditional paper ballots or the ExpressVote machines.
If they choose ExpressVote, a poll worker will ensure the proper precinct is selected before handing them a blank ballot, which is entered into the machine before the votes are made via touch screen entry. (An attached handheld controller vocalizes each choice for the visually impaired.)
The device walks the voter through each choice, allowing them to review their selections at ballot’s end. The machine also sends out an alert if too many or too few votes were cast.
Once the votes have been locked in, the machine spits out the completed ballot.
FROM THERE, the ballots will be taken to the County Clerk’s office — the same as before — where they’ll be fed en masse to a new ExpressVote DS 450 tabulating machine.
The tabulating apparatus is geared to accept all ballots, including those filled out by hand, where before election workers had to sort through all types and make sure they were stacked properly.
The machine also sorts out automatically ballots containing write-in votes — which likely will be key in Tuesday’s votes because of the notable races with no candidates.
Riebel also noted the machines, by state law, are not connected in any way to the internet; and neither is the computer from which the tabulated results will be printed. A simple thumb drive will be used to transfer the information to another computer.
Of note, while the new machines will more quickly sort through which ballots have write-in candidates, it cannot distinguish the names that are written in.
Determining the write-in results probably won’t occur until Monday morning, Riebel said, when the ballots are finalized.
STATE legislators enacted the fall city and school board elections as a means to increase turnout for candidates and voters.
While that didn’t exactly catch on in Allen County, where there are more races with no candidates than those which are contested, Riebel is hopeful the trend changes.
“What they want is to get people to realize that every fall, there’s going to be an election.”
It may take some time for such practices to become ingrained in the minds of the voting public.
Regardless, “I’m glad it’s a small election, so we can tell which techniques we may need to change,” Riebel said.
Poll workers were trained on the new machines last week.
“We want everybody to be comfortable with how they work,” Riebel said. “If this works well, I’ll probably ask county commissioners for some more.”
Each of the ExpressVote machines costs a shade over $3,000.
Riebel notes voters will likely always have the option of filling paper ballots by hand.
“I don’t think we’ll totally replace paper (ballots) for another generation or two,” she said. “Some people still don’t like computers.”