The dutiful Washington County voter, having chosen candidates and issues after a few moments of intense concentration in the election booth, steps to the counting machine with ballot in hand only to find a problem. But what? Did the voter “overwrite” the ballot by marking more than one candidate for a race? Or stray across party lines in a primary election? Or fail to mark the vote inside the oval spaces provided, circling them instead? A color screen on the county’s new voting machine indicates an error. Once the nature of the error pops up, the screen gives the voter a simple choice: return the ballot or cast it. In the first instance, the voter could ask an elections judge to destroy the ballot and provide a new one. If the voter chooses to cast the ballot, it would enter the machine and become official, with the part in error discarded.
That automated response is the main feature of 90 new voting machines the county purchased this year that are being distributed to cities and townships. At a cost of $5,395 apiece, they were purchased with federal grants and county levy money to replace machines the county bought in 1999.
“The biggest difference [with the new machines] is the voter can act independently rather than invoke the attention of an election judge,” said Jennifer Wagenius, director of the county’s Property Records and Taxpayer Services division, which oversees elections.