Long lines and long waits to vote in Fayette County on Tuesday led many to expect record turnout in the midterm election. But, in the end, turnout was only at 52 percent in Lexington. Higher than usual, but not a record. So the blame turned back to Fayette County’s electronic voting machines, which take a long time to use, especially with a long and complicated ballot. That means some people who didn’t have an hour or more to wait in line may have left before voting. “I certainly heard my fair share of people saying the line was too long and they had to leave,” said Debra Hensley, a former Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council member. “A person who cannot vote is an error on our part.” It’s a complaint that County Clerk Don Blevins Jr., the county’s chief elections officer, has heard before. And he agrees. “I can’t stand these machines,” Blevins said Wednesday. “They’re awkward to use, older citizens really struggle with the wheel, the user interface is just about as bad as it could be.”
The machines were bought in 2005 and 2006, when people were still reeling from the “hanging chad” debacle of the 2000 presidential election between Al Gore and George W. Bush, where Florida’s electoral votes hung on a few, difficult to read paper ballots.
“We were willing to compromise user friendliness for security,” he said. “Now people are more worried about external threats,” such as Russian interference in the 2016 election.
So the pendulum has swung back to the security of a paper ballot. All but about 30 counties in Kentucky use paper ballots, which people fill out, then turn in to be digitally scanned. That means many more people can fill out their ballots at the same time, leading to much shorter lines.
Lexington has about 1,000 Hart eSlate machines, which use a wheel that voters turn to highlight the difference choices on the ballot. Voters then push a button to make the highlighted choice. These machines can be attached to another machine that prints out the completed paper ballot, but Lexington does not use those, so there is no backup record of votes cast in Lexington.