Voting machines explained: Tools used for efficiency in local elections

Published 12:00 pm Friday, February 23, 2024

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VALLEY — Chambers County Probate Judge Paul Story had a show-and-tell presentation at Wednesday’s noon hour meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Valley. He brought with him a couple of voting machines that can be used in local elections and explained their functions.

One of the devices he demonstrated is an ExpressPoll electronic poll book. It’s simple to operate and allows poll workers to reduce check-in and verification waiting time for voters, increases the accuracy of ballots issued and improves the election day experiences for all. The ExpressPoll application runs on a tablet which gives poll workers an intuitive, easy-to-understand user interface that’s similar to the digital devices they use every day.

Story explained h0w a second device known as a DS200. It’s a poll place ballot scanner and vote tabulator that combines the flexibility and efficiency of digital-imaging technology to support paper-based voting. It’s a way of taking traditional optical-scanning ballot vote tabulation into the 21st century.

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The DS 200 enables those who are vision or hearing impaired to be able to vote. In the 2020 presidential election, a young woman in Lanett was a able to vote for the first time with the use of this machine. It’s equipped with braille keys.

The probate judge is the county’s chief election official. Story said it’s his goal for every county resident who is legally registered to be able to vote on election day in a swift and easy-to-understand way. The machines being used lets each registered voter vote one time.

The county’s largest precinct is the City of Valley. Depending on the expected turnout, there are at least six but no more than eight ExpressPolls inside the Community Center’s polling site. The precincts in Lanett and LaFayette have several of them as well. Chambers County has 16 precincts altogether. Two of them, one in Sparkling Springs and one in Lakeview, are changing sites. Voting in Sparkling Springs will be done at the Mountain Springs church and Lakeview will be moving from the volunteer fire department building to Lanier Baptist Church.

Chambers County has approximately 26,000 registered voters. In a typical election, around 8,000 to 9,000 of them will vote. Story said he’s like to have more people taking part in the democratic process. There was an unusually high turnout in the 2020 presidential election when close to 50 percent of the voters participated.

This election took place during the peak of the Covid pandemic. Because of this there was an unusual amount of absentee voting. “We usually get no more than 50 absentee votes in most elections,” Story said. “In the 2020 election we had over 3,000 such votes.”

Alabama has had a voter ID law since 2014. This requires the voter to have a photo ID with them in order to vote. These IDs include a valid driver’s license, an Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) digital driver’s license, a valid Alabama photo voter ID, a valid or student or employee ID from a college or university in the state, a valid military ID, a valid U.S. passport, a valid federal-issued ID, or a valid pistol permit.

In some instances when someone shows up at the polls without an ID, they are allowed to vote if at least two poll workers know who they are and that they live in the precinct.

Story explained what’s known as a provisional ballot. It’s voted the same way as any other ballot except the voter must sign an affidavit attesting to their eligibility to vote in that election and complete a voter update form. Their ballot is placed in an envelope and reviewed several days later by the local canvassing board, which determines whether the vote can count or not. In most cases it does.

Provisional ballots are allowed in such cases when the voter’s name does not appear for the precinct at the polling place, the voters does not have an acceptable voter ID, the voter had requested, but not used, an absentee ballot, an inspector claims you are not allowed to vote in that precinct or the polling place closing time has been extended by a federal or state court order.

“We do our best not to have to go to a provisional ballot, but we are not going to deny someone their right to vote,” Story said. “In most elections we may have 20 to 40 provisional ballots. There was one election when we had over 100, and 90 percent of them counted.”

The local canvassing board is made up of the probate judge, sheriff and circuit clerk.

Story said that he’s very, very careful to see that things will go right on an election day. “We’ve been well trained in setting everything up,” he said. “All the equipment has been tested beforehand.”

According to state law, polling places are open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Five polling places in the county are on Eastern Time and 11 on Central.

At each precinct, the poll workers are there an hour-and-half before the polls open. “The inspectors make sure everything is proper,” Story said. “They make sure all the ballots are accounted for.”

Story said he wants the voters to know what to expect when they go to vote. “We do all we can to make sure every registered voter who wants to vote can vote one time either by absentee ballot, by same-day voting or by provisional ballot,” he said. “We will not refuse anyone their right to vote.”

Story said that poll workers are special people. “In Alabama we will always need poll workers,” he said. “They help make sure everything goes smoothly. They are trained at a poll worker school and will work a 14-hour day on election day.”

Two poll workers will be seated at each table inside the voting location. One of them will operate the ExpressPoll and the other one hands out a ballot to each voter.

Story and members of the club had some fun in a mock election he conducted to illustrate how a real election takes place. Instead of voting for candidates, they voted for their favorite pastimes, their favorite kind of pet, foods, etc. It was nothing consequential, but it was a fun way to see how the voting machines worked.

The next election in Chambers County will be taking place on Tuesday, March 5th. The Republican and Democratic party primaries will be taking place. Story will be up for reelection as probate judge on the Republican side. He’s being opposed by Troy Davis. There’s also a contested election for superintendent of Chambers County Schools. Dr. Casey Weldon, the incumbent, is being challenged by Dr. Sharon Weldon. A county school board seat is also on the ballot in one of the districts. Incumbent Jeffrey Finch is being opposed by Reco Newton in the Democratic primary.