Some voters will have the opportunity to cast their ballots Tuesday using optical scanning voting machines being tested in Albemarle County.
Optical scanning machines scan a physically marked paper ballot and commit the votes into the machine’s electronic memory. The machines have the capacity to quickly count votes and to save the paper ballot in the event of a recount.
Albemarle will be switching over from touch-screen voting machines to the optical scanning machines in all voting precincts in the next two years.
Jake Washburne, Albemarle’s general registrar, said that increasing numbers of registered voters and aging voting technology are behind the change, which will cost the county about $300,000.
Following a much-publicized voting-machine snafu in a congressional election in Florida in 2006, Virginia passed legislation that says that no city or county can acquire new touch-screen voting machines.
While Albemarle has long-managed with its existing machines, Washburne said the growing population means purchasing new voting machines is necessary — and that optical scanning machines are the best option.
“We anticipate seeing the new machines throughout all of Albemarle precincts by the 2015 general election, but it is possible we will have them for 2014,” Washburne said.
Those voting in the Ivy precinct in the Samuel Miller District, Georgetown precinct in the Jack Jouett District, or who go to the County Office Building to vote in-person absentee (deadline has passed), may use the new machines this year.
The county is testing out optical scanning machines from three manufacturers: Unisyn, ES&S and Dominion. The Albemarle Board of Elections will choose one of these vendors.
In Virginia, Fairfax County already has implemented optical scanning voting machines, and Montgomery County will be doing so this Election Day.
The process is simple: the voter will physically mark a cardstock ballot and scan that paper into the voting machine. The machine will commit that ballot to electronic memory, and the physical ballot will be diverted into a market ballot bin and saved for two years.
Washburne said the new voting machines have similar handicap accessibility as the current electronic touch-screen machines. A blind voter can have the ballot read out loud through headphones, and mark their ballot choices through use of a hand control.
Because the county is only testing three of the new machines, the majority of voters will use the existing touch-screen voting machines on Election Day.
“Nobody who doesn’t want to use the optical scan machine is going to be forced to use it,” Washburne said.
There will be an elections officer at all voting precincts Tuesday to explain or clarify any part of the voting process — whether one is using new or old technology.
Washburne said he anticipates some voters in the county will choose to do a write-in vote for some races. Because that is more complicated than just checking a box, Washburne said any voters who want to do a write-in vote should make sure they are clear on the process before entering the voting booth.