By Barney Blakeney
When Charleston County voters go to the polls November 5 to cast their ballots in local municipal elections, they’ll use new voting machines. In a two-step process voters will make selections on one machine that marks the selections on paper ballots and then insert the paper ballot into a second machine which records and stores the selections.
The new system which cost the state about $52 million replaces the 15-year-old one previously used. Charleston County Board of Elections and Registration Director Joseph Debney said while the new system may not be more efficient, it offers more transparency than the previous one. Replacement provides the state with a dependable system for years to come and will greatly enhance the security of the election process. Having a paper record of each voter’s ballot will add an additional layer of security as it allows for audits of paper ballots to verify vote totals.
The system works using a Ballot-Marking Device (BMD) that helps voters mark a paper ballot more accurately and efficiently. A voter’s choices are presented on a touch screen similar to the old voting machines. The BMD allows the voter to mark the choices on-screen and when the voter is done, prints the selections on paper ballots which then are either hand counted or counted using an optical scanner/tabulator, the second machine.
To vote you show your Photo ID, confirm your address, and sign the poll list as normal. You will then be given a blank ballot and be directed to an ExpressVote machine. You insert the ballot into the first machine to begin marking your ballot. The first machine will print your ballot. You will have the opportunity to review your selections printed on the ballot before inserting it into a ballot scanner, the second machine. It tabulates the votes on your ballot and feeds the ballot into a locked ballot box. The paper ballots are then used to verify and audit election results.
What are the benefits of a ballot-marking device? Ballot marking devices (BMDs) offer many of the benefits of touchscreen voting machines while also providing the assurance and security of a paper ballot.
- BMDs are fully accessible for people with disabilities allowing every South Carolinian to vote independently using the same equipment. Hand-marked paper systems are not accessible and require voters with disabilities to vote with assistance or on a device.
- BMDs prevent voters from overvoting (selecting more candidates than allowed). Hand-marked paper ballots can be overvoted. Election officials are unable to determine voter intent in an overvoted office leading to the voter’s vote not being counted.
- BMDs prevent stray marks. Unintended marks on a paper ballot can cause overvotes or votes to be cast differently than intended.
- BMDs prevent improper marks. Voters do not always mark paper ballots by filling in the oval as instructed. It is common for voters to circle a candidate’s name, make a check mark, or even cross through a name. Improper marks require election officials to try to interpret these marks to determine voter intent. Ultimately, marking the ballot differently than instructed can cause a voter’s vote to not be counted.
- BMDs remind voters if they have undervoted (missed an office or voted for fewer candidates than allowed).
- BMDs offer the easiest transition for voters. South Carolinians have been voting on touchscreens for the past 15 years. Voting on the ExpressVote will offer a familiar experience with the added assurance of verifying their vote on a paper ballot.
To view a demonstration of the new devices go to https://www.scvotes.org/south-carolina-voting-information-page or call (843) 744 8683.