New machines will allow community voting in Kanawha

KENNY KEMP | Gazette-Mail file photo
Kanawha County Clerk Vera McCormick shows Commission President Kent Carper new touch-screen voting machines at a demonstration of the equipment in December.

With the new voting machines Kanawha County Commissioners voted to buy Thursday, the county plans to offer community voting during the 2018 election, officials say.

That means residents will be able to vote before Election Day at polling places throughout the county. The county currently only offers early voting at Voter’s Registration at the county courthouse.

The Kanawha County Commission voted to buy new Express Vote touch-screen voting machines and digital scanners for nearly $3.2 million at its regular meeting Thursday. The county will spend around another $349,000 for carts with privacy shields for the machines.

With the new machines, made by Election Systems & Software, voters insert paper and use a computer touch screen to vote. The ballots are then printed so the voter can check them before they’re scanned into a computer.

Kanawha County Clerk Vera McCormick told the county commission Thursday they will set up community voting for next year’s election.

“We’re going to have community voting,” McCormick said during the meeting. “We’ve always wanted it. Before, we could not use it with the equipment we had. With this, we can. I have never not wanted it.”

McCormick said the specific polling places haven’t been decided, but the idea is to set up polling places in each of the county’s magisterial districts.

Using the machines the county currently has, community voting would have meant having optical scan ballots for the entire county at each place that offered community voting, McCormick said.

“If we’ve got three or four thousand ballots in a room and we’re not going to be there all night, we wanted to make sure they were secure,” McCormick said. “We’d have to have security, and you’d have to have ballots for every precinct. There was just a lot of things like that we couldn’t supply.”

A representative of Election Systems & Software told the commission Thursday that the touch-screen machines will prevent voters from incorrectly marking their ballots and from over-voting — voting for more candidates than allowed.

Commission President Kent Carper has long pushed for community voting. Carper said hacking and fraud have been some of the concerns with electronic machines and community voting.

“All the hoopla about voter fraud and [the idea] people are going to sneak into the building like on that TV show ‘Mission Impossible,’ I mean that stuff’s ridiculous,” Carper said at the meeting. “This stuff can be secured. It’s done all over the country, right?”

The machines the county is getting are not hooked up to the internet, he said.

“I think it’s absolutely not hackable,” he said Friday.

Carper said he believes community voting will make it easier for people to vote. When people vote early, they don’t need to worry about a time conflict or sickness preventing them from making it to the polls on Election Day, he said.

In the past, most of the early voters have been from Charleston, he said.

“I think it will increase voter turnout and it shows respect for the public,” Carper said.

Representatives of the Kanawha Democratic and Republican committees attended Thursday’s meeting.

Lance Wheeler, vice chairman of the Kanawha Republican Executive Committee, said Friday his committee supports the commission’s decision to get new voting machines and to set up community voting.

Wheeler said having polling places throughout the county will make it easier for those who live outside Charleston to vote.

“I think if we’re going to have early voting, we should have it throughout the county,” Wheeler said.

Community voting is a remedy to the long lines that were at the courthouse to vote early during the 2016 election, he said. He added that he’d love to see polling places in areas like Cross Lanes and Clendenin.

Wheeler commended the commission and McCormick for buying the machines. The price tag is hefty, he said, but the machines are worth it.

Elaine Harris, chairwoman of the Kanawha County Democratic Executive Committee, said her committee never took action to officially support the new voting machines. She said she hasn’t heard any negative feedback from the committee members, though.

Harris said there always will be concerns related to fraud and hacking, but the company that makes the machines said it stands by its products, she said.

Harris said her committee has long been an advocate of community voting, which will allow better early voting access to people who live in the eastern and western sides of the county.

“I don’t know anyone that would have a problem with that,” Harris said.

Reach Lori Kersey at Lori.Kersey@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1240 or follow @LoriKerseyWV on Twitter.

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