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July 27, 2010

County considers new voting machines

eScans would create paper trail; ease software compatibility

WHITLEY CITY — Next year when McCreary Countians cast their ballots in the Governor’s race, they could be doing so using a new voting machine.

McCreary County Clerk Eric Haynes arranged for a presentation to county officials following the July 13 fiscal court meeting of an eScan machine that would decrease election officials’ reliance on electronics.

    The eScan was used during the May Primary to count absentee ballots. Voters mark a paper ballot which is fed into the machine, scanned and held. If a recount is ordered, the ballots would be available for manual tabulation.

    “The general feeling of the public is that a paper trail instills trust and improves transparency,” Joe Harp of Harp Enterprises, an election retailer, said.

    Some 70  counties have already switched to the new system, which uses the same software as the eSlate machines already used by McCreary County primarily for disabled voters. Most local voters, however, use the “1242” electronic voting machines.

    According to Harp, if a ballot is not properly marked for scanning, the eScan “kicks it out” and the voter has another opportunity. Each precinct would need just one machine as voters mark their ballots behind privacy screens, only using the machine to drop the ballot once completed.

    Harp told county officials that the state would provide funding for one eScan per precinct. At $4,500 per machine, McCreary County would be eligible for $81,000 for its 18 precincts. Harp estimated that the county would need to spend approximately $15,000 out of pocket for two back-ups and related materials such as privacy booths.

    Haynes told the court that he isn’t advocating the purchase but noted that state officials do recommend the switch. If the county were to approve, the local board of elections would not implement the new system until next year.

    “I don’t want to use a new machine in the middle of an election,” Haynes said. “The Governor’s election would be a good time to try it out. We used the demo to scan absentees in May and it counted 174 ballots in 20 minutes.”

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