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Ready for election season
County takes delivery of new voting equipment
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The unpacking of the new Barton County voting equipment fills the County Commission chambers Wednesday afternoon.

Last Tuesday, a crew arrived a day early to haul off Barton County’s old voting machines, causing the County Clerk’s Office to scramble. 

It was the opposite this Wednesday afternoon as the new equipment arrived almost two days late, again creating chaos, this time in the rain.

“But, it’s here and its good,” said County Clerk Donna Zimmerman, who also serves as the county election officer. “It’s been tested and its ours now.”

In March, the County Commission OKed the purchase of new voting equipment from Omaha, Neb.-based Election Systems and Software. The $183,000 system will replace the county’s decade-plus-old fleet of voting machines (also made by ES&S) and make a switch back to paper ballots.

“I think this is going to be much easier,” Zimmerman said. Although this wasn’t readily apparent Wednesday her staff and ES&S personnel frantically unloaded the devices and accessories, filling the commission’s courthouse chambers with electronic gear and empty cardboard boxes.

“I’m excited to get out and use it,” she said. They will first be deployed this fall in August, if there is a primary, or in November for the general election.

“There is still a lot to figure out,” Zimmerman said. Storage and transporting the machines to polling places shouldn’t be a problem, but setting them up at the stations needs to be studied.

There will be plenty of time for training, she said. And, since this is a mid-term election year, they can get the kinks worked out prior to the presidential voting year in 2020.

Making the change

The new system is a combination, Zimmerman said. Voters will have the option to cast an electronic or paper ballots, but either way, there will be there will be paper ballots created that can be counted as many times as needed.

The old gear was becoming unreliable and, under the Help America Vote Act, all voting systems must include electronic devices for impaired voters. The new set-up checks all these boxes.

The cost included precinct scanners, electronic ballot marking devices, barcode scanners, encoders, hardened results computer and memory. Over it’s 10-year life expectance, the cost would be over $319,000, including ballots and maintenance.

Zimmerman’s office studied this issue since the current system turned 10 years old. That was in 2016 when replacement parts started becoming hard to find.

The department has already deployed 17 KnowInk Poll Pads to help streamline the election process. Use of the pads decreases staff time and supply costs, while improving the check-in process at polling places.

These took the place of paper poll books, but have nothing to do with casting ballots.

In 2006, the 87 iVotronics machines (which cost about $2,500 each for a total of about $300,000) were put into service. However, HAVA Endowment funds covered 90 percent of the county’s costs, and that federal money isn’t available now.

This is what in large part prompted the office to consolidate polling stations, a change that went into effect for the first time last November. 

The county went from 21 boards overseeing polling at 23 sites countywide to nine boards and 11 locations. Fewer locations meant less equipment, making the conversion less expensive.

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Chris Saenz, Barton County Clerk’s Office voting equipment technician, left, gets instructions on how to use the new voting equipment delivered Wednesday afternoon.