June 29 2017 09:36 AM

Ingham County, City of Lansing launch new voting technology for primary

Ingham County, City of Lansing launch new voting technology for primary

It’s out with the connect the arrow and in with the fill in the oval at Ingham County polling locations starting in August. That’s because a state mandate has local election officials changing to newer equipment to speed up voting times as well as counting returns on election night.

Gone will be the ballots in which voters had to draw a line creating a completed arrow next to their candidate of choice. Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope said that was troublesome for some voters, resulting in people circling the arrows instead.

Now, voters will use a tried and true form for selection: Filling in an oval next to the name of the candidate they are selecting.

“We have had many, many years with standardized testing where people are familiar with that,” Swope said. “It will be just a little bit more intuitive for the voters.”

Another bonus, Swope said, is that when voters feed ballots into the tabulating machine after casting their votes, the machine will take a picture of the ballot and tabulate the results from that image. The computer system is programmed to identify voting errors, such as voting for too many candidates in a race. it will let the voter know of the error and provide a choice between proceeding — resulting in nullification — or returning the ballot for a do-over.

Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum said she is pleased with the new touch screen voting machines available for disabled voters. Those machines have a variety of technologies to assist people with a wide variety of disabilities cast their ballots. Swope said the new technology will also make it easier for persons with disabilities to skip races, which wasn’t possible before.

He said the previous machines were prone to failures, including instances where a disabled person took over 20 minutes to vote, only to have the internal printer system fail to register the choices.

The county clerk said she anticipates with the proliferation of touchscreen smartphones and tablets that the touchscreen machines will become more popular. Swope said he was unsure that would be the case, noting that there will be only one such device available for each of the city’s 55 polling places.

The new machines were purchased largely with federal and state monies, Swope said. The deadline to meet the state mandate is next year, but both clerks expedited the change.

Byrum also noted that the new systems are much more secure than previous voting technology. That’s important in light of recent revelations that hackers, likely tied to Russia, had invaded the voting systems of as many as 21 states. She declined to discuss specific security protocols, citing a concern that “bad actors” will try to exploit the new systems anyway. But she noted the previous countywide voting systems required Windows XP to operate — a much older Windows program that no long has updates and is prone to hacking.

“I can tell you my IT director was very happy we got rid of the Windows XP based programming,” said Swope.