Faster, more reliable voting machines are arriving just in time to help handle an expansion of absentee voting in Minnesota and a high-profile test of Minneapolis’ ranked-choice voting in this fall’s mayoral election. Six of the seven metro-area counties are spending millions to replace hundreds of 13-year-old optical-scan ballot-counting machines, taking advantage of federal grants and the recent certification of new voting technology. Ballots cast by Minneapolis residents will be fed into the machines during the mayoral election in November, which will be the most high-profile test yet of the city’s system that allows voters to pick a first, second and third choice. The new equipment will eliminate the hand counting that took 15 days in 2009.
… Unlike the old optical-scan machines, which simply scanned the ballot to count the marks, the new digital-scan technology “makes a digital image of the ballot, then looks for darkened pixels in the vote target area,” she said. “If enough darkened pixels are detected, the machine registers the vote.’’
The county has the option to program the machines to keep the images for later use. “One use of these ballot images could be counting write-in votes, rather than going back through and using the physical ballots for that,’’ Gelms said. How those images might be used, whether they would be open to public view and whether they could prove useful in recounts are all legal questions that will have to be addressed, Gelms said. While the topic is up for discussion, Hennepin County has decided not to collect images in the August primaries.