New voting machines to be featured at fair

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Elections > Technology is faster, user friendly

By Arin McKenna

Voters can preview Los Alamos County’s new voting machines at the county fair Saturday. Young and old alike are invited to vote for their favorite ice cream, search engine and season of the year on an “ice cream ballot” and feed them to the voting machine.
The clerk’s office will post “election results” on their website.
“We’re trying to showcase the machine, get people comfortable with using it,” County Clerk Sharon Stover said. “When we’re at the fair, we really would like anyone to come up and use the machines, even young people.”
In place of the generic test ballot, Stover and her staff considered using a sample ballot based on questions that could provide useful input for the county, but the time and money involved were prohibitive.
Secretary of State Dianna Duran lobbied for new voting machines to address several problems with the M100s currently in use.
In 2013, the legislature allocated $6 million in general funds and $1 million from the information technology fund to purchase new machines for the largest counties: Bernalillo, Doña Ana, San Juan, Sandoval and Valencia.
Those counties tested out the Dominion ImageCast Evolution (ICE) machines in the primary, and the entire state was upgraded to Integrated Reporting and Integrity System (IRIS) software.
The result was a clean audit for election results. According to Stover, the older voting machines (Elections Systems and Software’s M100s and Unity software) would have thousands of errors.
Duran requested an additional $6 million allocation from the 2014 legislature to upgrade the entire state before the November election.
Los Alamos was allocated the 10 ICE machines which it requested, and also an ImageCast Central (ICC) machine, which was on their wish list. The ICC machine can scan mail in ballots at record speed.
The state also sent a low-end version of the ICE machines called an ImageCast Precinct. Stover has yet to decide whether to keep that one.
The ICE machines are valued at approximately $8,000 each and the ICC machine at $20,000, all at no cost to the county.
Dominion is working to correct two hiccups discovered during the trial run. The ink tends to dry up in New Mexico’s arid climate and the recording tapes were not long enough for the larger counties and had to be changed out during the election.
It took Bureau of Elections Manager Gloria Maestas approximately five minutes to prepare the machine for voting. The M100s took 10 to 15 minutes each and were much more complicated.
Screen prompts alert voters to ballot problems, such as an over-vote. The ICE machines have the capability to accept ballots with over-votes or no votes, although Duran must decide whether to allow that feature to be implemented. Maestas confirmed that a very small percentage of voters choose not to fill out a ballot they have requested, usually in the primary.
Those who cast over-votes can request a new ballot to correct the error.
The machines also do a better job at separating ballots with write in votes.
The tapes are a bit wider and print somewhat darker, so they are easier to read. However, Stover plans to continue using some form of electronic election night reporting. IM Manager Laura Gonzales is working with Doña Ana County’s IT person to see how the ICE technology could be used for that, eliminating the need for someone to key in the results.
If that proves unfeasible, the county will use the Excel/PDF system utilized in the primaries.
The machines also have an Accessible Voter Interface for handicapped voters, which utilizes a device called an Audio Tactile Interface. Even those without the use of their hands may vote by puffing into a special slot, making voting accessible to every citizen.
Stover plans to ask council to implement one new procedure for this election: having the canvassing board attend the poll worker training to help them better understand the process.
The public is welcome to attend the machine certification at the end of September. The clerk’s office will announce the date after they receive the data cards and ballots from the vender.
Stover, Maestas and their staff will also conduct voter registration at the county fair.