New machines for early voting in Will County
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain firstname.lastname@example.org January 13, 2014 4:20PM
Will County Clerk Nancy Schultz Voots shows off one of the county's new DS200 optical ballot scanners. The new machines will make the early voting process more accurate and greener than in years past. | Cindy Cain~Sun-Times Media.
Updated: February 15, 2014 6:23AM
Will County residents who participate in early voting this year will see a new system that does away with ballots being stuffed into envelopes that bear voters’ names.
Even though election judges in previous elections had turned the envelopes over so names could not be viewed, the process made some voters nervous because they feared people would know how they voted, County Clerk Nancy Schultz Voots said.
But those fears should be alleviated because of new optical scanners that will be available at 23 sites during early voting, which runs from March 3 to March 15, Voots said.
Early voters will be able to mark their ballots and feed them into optical scanners on the spot, the same procedure that occurs on Election Day. The early ballots will remain in the scanner and the vote total will be recorded. The 55 new DS200 optical scanners have four security systems in place involving tamper-proof seals and lid locks, Voots said.
The new equipment will make the process greener than in years past, too. Instead of printing 100 percent of the ballots that could be needed for early voting, ballots will be printed on demand via new printers at each voting site. The number of ballots printed on demand should be far less than was printed in the past, Voots said.
On-demand printing also will help ensure voters get the right ballot styles so they vote in the correct races. Voter registration rolls will be loaded into the machines so when a voter arrives early, the printer knows which ballot style is needed for that particular address. Election officials overseeing early voting will no longer have to search through boxes for correct ballot styles while voters wait.
The new optical scanners, printers and laptops, which go along with the on-demand printing process, cost $314,000. Thirty percent of the total came out of the clerk’s budget. Seventy percent was paid for with grants from the federal Help America Vote Act, which became law after the 2000 presidential election.
The law not only did away with punchcard ballots, it also required new voting equipment that lets voters know when they overvote or undervote. That is another benefit of having the DS200s at early voting sites, Voots said. Now early voters will have a chance to redo their ballots if they make mistakes because the scanners will inform them of errors, which is something that didn’t happen when the ballots were placed in envelopes.
Voots said she wanted to purchase the new optical scanners back in 2004, but they had to be certified first by the Illinois State Board of Elections. That happened this summer.
Voots predicted the new equipment, which was purchased from Omaha, Neb.-based Election Systems and Software, will boost early voting participation because people will feel more secure about the privacy of their ballots. In 2013, 5,215 people voted early in the consolidated election. About 38,000 people voted early in the last general election in November 2012.
Now that the equipment is on hand, Voots said she can’t wait for early voters to use it.
“This is huge,” she said of the change. “This is the future.”
Prior to the March 18 primary, voting guides will be mailed to county residents informing them of their polling places and early voting sites.
For more information on the election or early voting sites go to www.thewillcountyclerk.com or call (815)740-4637 or (815) 740-4632.
The last day to register to vote for the March primary is Feb. 18.