Let's hope voters give the new Douglas County voting system a workout during Tuesday's primary election.
County Clerk Jamie Shew and his staff ran the new machines through their paces last week to try to make sure their debut goes smoothly. The light turnout expected on Tuesday makes it a good opportunity to work out the kinks in the system. But county voters should make the effort to show up in great enough numbers to give the system a good test.
Voters still will mark paper ballots, which will provide a backup in case a recount is required. Once a ballot is marked, it will be put into a tabulating machine that will check it for errors and alert the voter on a screen so the problem can be corrected. As it accepts the ballot the machine also will tabulate the votes. At the end of the day, a data collection device will be taken to the courthouse, where totals from all of the voting precincts will be combined.
The process should significantly speed the vote-counting process, which has been fraught with problems in recent elections. The equipment used then required election workers to feed paper ballots into a computerized counting machine. Everything from high humidity to operator error was blamed for election tallies that lasted late into the night and sometimes had to be corrected the next day.
A smooth run and a timely tally Tuesday will go a long way in increasing local voters' confidence in the county's decision to invest in the new equipment.
An efficient, reliable voting system, however, is only part of the equation. A strong election also requires a large turnout of well-informed voters. Both Democrats and Republicans have important races on the primary ballot. Republicans will pick challengers for Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore. In two other important state races, Republican incumbents face challenges from within their party, in contests that have been characterized as reflecting the split between moderate and conservative Republicans. State Sen. Kay O'Connor of Olathe is challenging incumbent Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh, and State Rep. Eric Carter of Overland Park, is running against incumbent Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger.
There are only two races on the local Democratic ballot, but, because no Republican has filed in the race, one of them likely will choose a member of the Kansas State Board of Education. In District 1, which covers Lawrence north of Sixth Street and most of eastern Douglas County, Janet Waugh, a Kansas City, Kan., resident who has been a part of the board's moderate minority, is being challenged by Jesse Hall, also of Kansas City, who supports the conservative agenda of the current board majority.
Unfortunately, too many voters overlook the significance of primary elections. This is not a year to take anything for granted. Several races, observers have said, are likely to be decided by who turns out to vote. In a low-turnout election, a relatively small number of dedicated supporters can exert disproportionate control over the ballot box - and the state's future.
In that sense, a primary vote can carry even more clout than a vote in the general election. Make sure one of those votes on Tuesday is yours.