What you need to know about Franklin County's new voting machines

Walk the back hallways of the Franklin County Board of Elections office on Morse Road, and you’ll see pallets and boxes lining the walls.

Deliveries of touch-screen monitors and other equipment that will be used by voters to cast ballots are arriving daily, part of a new $12 million-plus system that will be implemented during the May primary.

It’s labor-intensive, putting the old stuff in storage and unpacking, assembling and testing the new stuff.

Training soon will begin in earnest for elections officials and poll workers, followed by a public-education campaign to make sure voters are ready to use the new system in future elections.

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Elections officials plan educational outings with veterans, neighborhood and church groups, and others — “anyplace that will have us,” said county elections Director Ed Leonard.

There’s even a mock-up of a precinct polling place at the board of elections office, a learning lab that soon will be open to the public a few times a week to let voters try the new system before casting real ballots.

In the meantime, here are some facts and figures you should know heading into local elections this year and statewide and national contests in 2020:

24 — The number of months it took to determine which elections system to purchase. Five certified vendors’ wares were demonstrated and considered.

In the end, Franklin County chose a hybrid system that combines touch-screen and hand-marked options, all involving paper ballots and optical scanners.

“It will give voters the option of voting on paper if they’re more comfortable with that,” Leonard said. “But they’ll also have the opportunity to continue voting on a touch-screen electronic system.”

3,276 — The number of new touch screens that elections officials plan to have on hand for the 2020 presidential primary and general elections.

That’s fewer than the 4,735 voting stations in the old system. County officials think they doesn’t need as many units with the new system, given the number of people who opt to cast ballots early or who are expected to mark their selections by hand on paper ballots.

Of the new machines, the initial order includes 2,072 ballot-marking touchscreens that will be set up on tabletops at polling places and 506 touchscreens mounted in stand-alone, height-adjustable kiosks.

The county will buy another 698 touchscreen units before the 2020 primary, Leonard said.

2 — The number of options while voting in person.

With the old system, voters made their selections using touch screens and then hit “cast” to formally submit their ballot.

With the new system, not including mailed ballots submitted by voters or provisional ballots cast by those whose eligibility is in question, there will be two options for voting in person.

The first involves the tabletop touch screens — technically, ballot-marking units, with voters’ electronic selections printed on a ballot card. For residents with disabilities or who otherwise don’t want to handle paper ballots, height-adjustable kiosks will be offered, with touch screens for making selections and ballots directed into an attached, secure bin.

For those who prefer non-electronic options, printed paper ballots will be offered for them to mark selections by hand.

DS200 — A ballot scanner and vote tabulator that looks like a big trash container or recycling bin. The county bought 550 of them.

The tops flip up to reveal a computer monitor and ballot slot. There will be at least one DS200 at every Franklin County polling place, and likely more at larger precincts. After making selections by hand or using touchscreens, voters will be directed to the units to submit their ballots.

355 — The number of polling places in Franklin County, where registered voters in more than 860 precincts may cast ballots on Election Day.

It takes up to 3,500 poll workers to keep those polling places up and running during countywide elections. And they’ll all have to be trained on the new system.

90 — In seconds, the time it takes for the new voting machines to boot up. The old units took 3 to 4 minutes to be ready for voters.

20 — A rough estimate of the percentage of Franklin County voters expected to use the new system this year. Most won’t be aware of the change until the presidential election in 2020.

That’s just the nature of election cycles — odd-year ballots packed with local races with few statewide decisions draw fewer people to the polls.

In 2016, the last presidential election, about 70 percent of the 843,000-plus registered voters in Franklin County cast ballots. Contrast that with the 2017 general election, when 23.7 percent of the 853,896 who were registered voted.

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