By the 2018 election, Kanawha County residents may be using a touch screen to vote instead of filling in paper ballots by hand.
The Kanawha County Clerk’s office held a demonstration on Thursday to showcase the new equipment that would replace the existing optical scanners used for voting.
Election Systems & Software, the state’s only approved vendors for such equipment, is selling the machines and already has sold them to Harrison, Ohio, Monongalia, Taylor, Lewis and Putnam counties.
The new system uses a ballot marking device called an Express Vote.
A voter would take a blank piece of cardstock and insert it inside the Express Vote, which has a touch screen that voters use to select their chosen candidates.
Mac Beeson, regional sales manager for Election Systems & Software, said voters can zoom in to better read the ballot, and every machine is ADA compliant, with a braille keypad and headphone outlet for anyone with vision or hearing impairments.
After making their selections, the voter can review their ballot and go back to make changes if needed before printing it out.
Completed ballots are placed inside a digital scanner.
“This is where ballots are tabulated, so it takes a digital image of that ballot, front and back, and it stores all the votes on a USB stick in the machine,” Beeson said.
The ballots fall into a locked bin, where poll workers can take them to be counted without having to physically touch ballots beforehand.
Beeson said the county is looking to purchase 675 Express Vote machines and 200 digital scanners.
Commission President Kent Carper, however, was critical of the company’s asking price of $3.5 million for the equipment.
“We’re going to have to find a source of income to pay for a seven-figure project,” he said.
County Commission plans to ask Charleston and other municipalities that piggyback on Kanawha County elections to invest funds toward paying for the new machines.
“If we’re going to spend this kind of money, everyone needs to have a little skin in the game,” Carper said.
He also noted that incoming Secretary of State Mac Warner could decide to open the market to other vendors for new voting equipment.
The county also would save money by replacing the paper ballots currently used in the optical scanner.
Because the county is required to provide enough ballots for every registered voter, scores of ballots end up being thrown away, especially when voter turnout is low.
“Those paper ballots cost anywhere from 30 to 50 cents [each],” Beeson said.
County Clerk Vera McCormick said the county spent $184,000 just for paper ballots in this year’s primary election and $113,000 for the general election.
The county also swore in several elected officials on Thursday, including incumbent Dave Hardy as county commissioner and Mike Rutherford as Kanawha County sheriff.
Several new Kanawha County deputies were also sworn in, including Terron Burks, Justin Cochran and Treavor Dubiel. Capt. Gregory Young was sworn in as Chief Deputy.
Also on Thursday, commissioners voted to grant $13,000 to Dunbar Intermediate School to train a facility service dog.
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