Hinds County this fall will use a digital voting system in which residents mark a paper ballot, but officials say that’s not a step backward. The optical scanner machines made by Omaha-based Election Systems and Software, used by the state’s 81 other counties, will replace Hinds County’s decade-old, touch-screen system. County leaders say it will make precinct check-in and voting quicker and more foolproof. But just as importantly, they say, the new process will restore confidence to a Hinds County system plagued in recent years by machine malfunctions and accusations that absentee and affidavit ballots were lost or mishandled. The machines will be delivered by July 1, not quite in time for spring municipal primaries and the June general election, but in time for any special elections in August. Jackson residents, though, will use the system via leased equipment in municipal elections this spring. “This will put you with a state-of-the-art system that exceeds many counties,” Frank Jackson, the county’s consultant for procurement and master agent with Electronic Option Services Inc., said of the $1.2 million system. “Our hope is that this project will be modeled throughout the state.
“People think that if you go back to paper, it’s a step backward, but it’s really a step forward,” Jackson said.
This, officials say, is why: When a voter checks in at a precinct, his name will be looked up via an electronic poll book rather that a large computer printout book that poll workers must flip through. Voters sign in on an electronic signature pad. A paper poll book will be on hand as a backup.
If the voter’s name isn’t in the system for that precinct, if he’s a registered voter, the system will not only direct him to his correct precinct, but supply a map and directions. It’s a feature that will come in handy in the wake of redistricting; a number of voters have received different precinct assignments.
Congestion in voting lines “typically occurs at check-in, and not in the voting process itself,” said Matthew Nelson, vice president of sales with ESS.