New voting machines get first test this election season

New voting equipment purchased by Anoka County earlier this year will gets its first test at the Tuesday, Nov. 5 election.

This is an off-year election with no federal, state, or county and very few city elective offices on the ballot; there are only a handful of school board seats.

Election Judge Arlene Wilson inserts a completed mock ballot into the election machine during the public accuracy test of the new voting equipment at the Coon Rapids City Center Oct. 23.

Election Judge Arlene Wilson inserts a completed mock ballot into the election machine during the public accuracy test of the new voting equipment at the Coon Rapids City Center Oct. 23.

However, Coon Rapids is different because the Coon Rapids City Council has placed a $17.4 million park bond referendum on the ballot that will involve all 22 precincts in the city.

A public accuracy test for the new voting counting machines took place at the Coon Rapids City Center Oct. 23 with City Clerk Cathy Sorensen and election judges Lila Redberg and Arlene Wilson performing the test.

Both Redberg and Wilson have been election judges in Coon Rapids for more than 20 years.

Machines were tested in three precincts – 13, 31 and 51.

In two of the precincts, there is an Anoka-Hennepin School Board election that impacts Coon Rapids, while the other precinct only has the park bond referendum on the ballot, according to Sorensen.

“The tests were accurate,” Sorensen said. “Everything went without a hitch.”

The new equipment is digital rather than the optical scan system of the previous election machines, she said.

But residents won’t notice much difference when voting, Sorensen said.

They will still receive a paper ballot from the election judge and use a pen to mark their voting choices.

Then voters will insert the completed paper ballot into the vote counting machine.

However, the new machine comes with a larger 12-inch display screen that will let the voter know if they have made a mistake on their ballot and give them instructions on what to do.

“The screen on the new equipment is much clearer and easier to read than on the previous machine,” Sorensen said.

It tells the voter exactly what the mistake is and allows them to push a button to retrieve the ballot  and take it back to the election judge to get a new ballot and start the voting process again, according to Sorensen.

In the past, the election judge had to be much more involved in the process because the machine did not offer the chance for the spoiled ballot to be retrieved, Sorensen said.

“The new equipment gives the voter more flexibility and control,” she said.

The county purchased the new voting equipment because the previous machines were obsolete.

The contract for the new equipment plus election services (maintenance and operation) with Election Systems & Software cost $1,530,251.30 and is being paid for through a cost sharing formula spelled out in a 10-year joint powers agreement approved last year by the county, school districts and cities in the county.

The county purchased 140 ballot counters for use in the precincts in the county plus a central ballot counter, which can count all the absentee ballots, instead of having individual machines at each precinct performing that task as was the case before, according to Cindy Reichert, Anoka County elections manager.

Training classes for city clerks and election judges on the new equipment took place in August.

Peter Bodley is at peter.bodley@ecm-inc.com

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