Coming soon to a polling station near you: one of Douglas County's new voting machines.
A total of 160 machines were delivered last month, and soon some of them will be taken to libraries, senior citizen centers and other locations for demonstrations how they work, County Clerk Jamie Shew said.
"I think the more we have, people interact with them the better," Shew said.
Your average voter won't notice too much difference from the way they've voted in the past, Shew said.
Training for staff that will be working with the machines will begin soon, Shew said. A demonstration machine for the public will be set up outside the clerk's office on the first floor of the Douglas County Courthouse once a test ballot has been received, Shew said.
Voters still will mark paper ballots, just like before. But after that, the ballot is dropped into a machine that will check the ballot to make sure there are no mistakes, such as voting for too many candidates. If a mistake is found, the machine will alert the voter on a screen, and the voter will have a chance to make a correction.
The machine that takes in the ballots also will count them. At the end of the day, a data collection device will be taken to the courthouse and added to the final results tally. The voting data is automatically saved in case there is a power outage, Shew said.
"It doesn't really change the method of voting; it changes the way it is tabulated," Shew said.
The change in tabulation method also should speed up considerably the process of obtaining the final voting results, Shew said. In past years, Douglas County has been among the slower of the large Kansas counties at tabulating voting results.
A second voting machine will be used by voters with handicaps. Someone who is paralyzed will be able to use the "sip-puff" tube on the machine to mark a ballot. In the past, some people with disabilities needed someone to go into the booth with them to help them vote.
"People who have never been able to vote without assistance will have that available now," Shew said.
The machines were purchased for about $821,000 from Election Systems & Software Inc. of Omaha, Neb. County commissioners initially approved the purchase for $855,000, but the price was negotiated down and the old machines were traded in, Shew said. The federal government provided $460,000 to help pay the cost.
The county has 67 precincts, but extra machines were purchased as backups in case of breakdowns and because the county is expected to continue to grow in population, Shew said. One type of machines purchased is the Model 100 Precinct Ballot Counter, and the other is the AutoMark Voter Assist Terminal. A total of 80 of each type of machine was purchased.
The machines will be used for the first time in the Aug. 1 primary election and again in the Nov. 7 general election. The county clerk's staff and polling place workers will be trained over the next several weeks to work with the machines. Shew said he plans to have "field experts" trained to go to precincts to solve problems should they develop on election day.
The new machines were purchased so the county will be in compliance with requirements of the federal Help America Vote Act.