Push buttons and paper trails: First impressions of Tippecanoe Co.’s new vote machines
Tippecanoe County took its new voting machines for a test drive last week, before rolling the $1.5M system out for real in 2022
Thanks to sponsor Purdue Convocations, who helped make this edition of Based in Lafayette possible. For details about this week’s performances of “Choir! Choir! Choir!,” scroll to the bottom of today’s newsletter.
So, they held a mock election last week to give the smallest of stress tests for Tippecanoe County’s new voting system, gear called the MicroVote Infinity Voting System.
Here are a few takeaways from Thursday’s test drive of the $1.5 million push-button system, replacing the TSx touchscreen machines Tippecanoe County has been using since 2006.
People really showed up: Lines on a late Thursday afternoon made it feel like prime time, Election Day. “And that was good – what I was really hoping for,” Julie Roush, Tippecanoe County clerk, said. “I really wanted people here, so we know how this is going to work on Election Day and what sort of questions we’re going to get.” The exact count of people who turned out Thursday weren’t immediately available. But the lines tended to move slowly for the five machines loaded with sample ballots, mainly because …
Voters put the machines through their paces: Representatives from MicroVote staffed the machines, fielding questions about the ins and outs, promising to be on hand when the machines roll out for the first time – for real – on April 5, the start of a month of voting for the May 3 Indiana primary. “I did as many alterations as I could,” voter Debby Parisi said. “I did a write-in vote. I canceled my vote to see how that worked. I did as much as it would allow you.” The upshot: “It was easy,” she said. “I’m thrilled these are here.”
How the machines work: The biggest differences are the push-button operation – rather than touch screens – a voter verifiable paper audit trail. Once a voter checks in, an election official puts a card in the machine, verifies that the voter has the correct ballot and then steps away. The buttons running down the sides of the machines correspond to candidate names and voter propositions on a screen. (“I kept trying to push the screen,” Parisi said. “That’s going to take some getting used to.”)
Before casting a final ballot, voters will get a paper preview of their selection. The paper rolls up like a receipt under Plexiglas. Voters have a chance to make changes at that point. Voters don’t take those paper receipts with them. Once a final ballot is cast, the paper is coded and rolls into the machine, where it is stored for review, as needed, later. Election officials offload electronic data about votes cast from each machine on Election Night. The machines are not connected to each other or to the internet.
For more: Click this link for a short video demonstration from the company.
Reaction, at first glance: Ken Jones, chairman of the voter services committee with the Greater Lafayette League of Women Voters, called the system “a good improvement over our first generation machines.” He said the paper receipt, which lists just a voter’s choices, isn’t as easy as checking over a ballot, but he said the printed paper trail was the most important improvement.
“There are enough differences in functionality plus incorporating a paper review that will likely cause voters to take longer to vote and need assistance,” Jones said. “Leading up to the primary next year, I hope there is significant and sustained communication and training about the new equipment. One mock election is a good start, there should and hopefully will be much more.”
Election officials’ reaction: Randy Vonderheide, a Republican member of the Tippecanoe County Election Board, said he had confidence in the old machines, despite complaints in recent elections about poorly calibrated screens that could take several attempts to register the best choice. “That often was a matter of fat fingers. It was easily fixed and not quite the problem it was sometimes made out to be. … The old equipment was reliable. The new equipment, I trust, will be, too.”
Roush said that beyond requirements for counties to go with voter verifiable paper audit trails by 2030, she believed the system would offer a measure of voter confidence. “Whatever we can do to keep people believing the voting process is accurate and secure is good,” Roush said. “(The paper trail) is a must, because voter confidence has absolutely taken a dive.”
What’s next: There are no elections in Tippecanoe County in 2021. Voter registration for the 2022 Indiana primary is open through April 4, 2022. To register or check your registration, go to: indianavoters.in.gov.
Thanks to sponsor Purdue Convocations, who helped make this edition possible. For details about Thursday and Friday’s performances by “Choir! Choir! Choir!” click the graphic below.
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