Residents of Aiken County who go to the polls Oct. 1 during the special election for the S.C. House District 84 seat will be using new voting machines.
But they don’t have to wait until then to get familiar with the ExpressVote Universal Voting System that is scheduled to be in place statewide by early 2020.
A couple of the new ballot-marking machines, which have touch screens, are set up in the lobby of the Aiken County Registration and Elections office in the Aiken County Government Center.
Also there is a DS200 ballot scanner and vote tabulator machine, which looks like a black trash can.
People who try them out each will receive a blank paper ballot.
After inserting the ballot into a ballot-marking machine, the user will make selections on the touch screen.
The machine will give the user the opportunity to express his or her opinion in a mock election about the best flavor of ice cream, best type of barbecue, preferred South Carolina vacation destination and four other topics.
When the user is finished voting, the ballot can be reviewed before the ballot-marking machine prints it out.
Then the user will take the ballot and insert it into the ballot scanner and vote tabulator.
There is a locked box at the bottom of the scanner and tabulator where the paper ballots are stored.
According to Election Systems & Software, the Nebraska-based company that makes the ExpressVote system, it is designed to help election officials ensure that every vote is cast and counted “accurately, securely and efficiently” by combining paper and technology.
The machines aren’t connected to the internet, and the paper ballots can be used to verify results if needed.
There is a new system set up in another part of the Registration and Elections office to receive absentee ballots for the House District 84 special election.
“It’s simple to use; it’s not hard at all,” said Registration and Elections Executive Director Cynthia Holland after conducting a demonstration of the ExpressVote system for the Aiken Standard last week.
She believes local voters will like it.
“People were asking for paper and now they’ll get paper in hand,” Holland said. “They’ll have a chance to confirm it (the ballot) before they print it out.”
Aiken County Information Technology Deputy Director Marvin Blystone, who stopped by the Registration and Elections office to check out the new voting machines, gave them a thumbs-up review.
“This is easy,” he said. “It’s also self-explanatory.”
Earlier this month, training sessions for clerks, poll managers and polling location technicians who will be involved in the House District 84 special election were held at the Registration and Elections office.
Sessions for other clerks and poll workers in Aiken County will be conducted prior to the Nov. 5 general election, when the new system is scheduled to be rolled out countywide.
The South Carolina Election Commission announced in June that a $51-million contract had been awarded to Election Systems & Software to provide the new voting machines.
The company is the nation’s largest voting equipment vendor.
Election Systems & Software also provided South Carolina’s existing voting system, which has been in place since 2004.
Holland said Aiken County received more than $2 million worth of new voting equipment – 478 ballot-marking machines and 89 ballot tabulation and scanner machines.
There was no cost to Aiken County for the equipment, Holland said, but there is a licensing agreement that charges the county $70,000 a year “for the upkeep of the machines.”
The county must pay for additional machines if it “needs to buy some more,” Holland added.
She expects voter turnout to be light for the House District 84 special election.
Melissa Oremus defeated Alvin Padgett in the Republican primary runoff in August, and no challengers outside the Republican Party filed to run.
But there will be a space for write-in votes on the ballot.
The House District 84 seat is vacant because Ronnie Young, who was a Republican, died in May.
Holland described the official launch of the new system in Aiken County as “exciting,” but “I wish more voters would be coming out” to use the new machines, she said.
Holland is expecting election officials from other counties and state officials to be in Aiken County on the day of the House District 84 special election to see how well the launch of the new voting system goes here.
In addition, representatives of Election Systems & Software “will be giving us support,” Holland said.