Commission considers purchase of new ballot counting equipment

Commission considers purchase of new ballot counting equipment Clay County Commmissioners Gary Iverson, Ralph Westergaard, Paul Hasse and Jerry Sommervold listen as Michael Hoversten of Elections Systems and Software, Waite Park, MN, describes the working of a new ballot counter the county is considering purchasing. by David Lias Voters in Clay County have grown used to casting ballots by punching holes in a card.

It appears that�s about to change.

The purchase of a new ballot counter and vote tabulator is likely going to be approved soon by the Clay County Commission.

The machine and its accessories, such as scanner tables, a ballot jogger, ballot boxes, and secrecy sleeves, come with a total price tag of nearly $25,000.

It likely won�t take long for the state-of-the-art equipment to pay for itself, however.

�It will save us a whole lot of time on everyone�s part,� County Auditor Ruth Brunick said. �There�s a lot of preparation work that has to be done to use the old system.�

Clay County�s old election system involved ballots roughly the size of old-style computer cards. Voters making choices in a city, school, county, state or federal election had to use a special tool to punch holes in the cards to indicate their selections.

After the polls closed, the ballots had to be fed by hand, one at a time, through the county�s existing counting machines.

That has made the tallying of votes in Clay County a long, tedious process.

That�s not the only reason, however, that the county is on the verge of replacing the machines.

�The county purchased the machines it uses now in 1978,� Brunick said. �It purchased four of them back then, and today, only two of them work. There are no parts available to repair them any longer.�

The new machine counts ballots printed on legal-sized sheets of paper. Voters make their selections in the voting booths by making a mark next to the candidate or issue of their choice with a lead pencil.

After the polls close, election workers simply remove ballots from the ballot box and place all into the machine to be counted. The machine processes 150 ballots per minute.

The machine boasts some of the latest technology available, meaning that the counting and tabulating process is highly accurate.

Each ballot is individually coded to insure proper interpretation by the system. Folding or bending doesn�t affect the readability of the ballot, and all races or issues on the ballot are completely documented.

The system also can provide continuous update reports on all issues or races as they�re being tabulated. The paper ballot can be used as an audit trail and be recounted by either hand or machine, which increases voter confidence.

Other advantages of the system include its ability to allow voters to review choices before they cast ballots, and the fact that absentee voters will receive the same ballot as precinct voters.

Brunick said that commissioners, in their preliminary discussions, have talked of providing funds to cover approximately half of the machine�s purchase price this year, and earmarking the remaining funds that are needed the following year.

�They haven�t approved any motions on this yet,� she said. �They will talk about this some more next week.�

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