Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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New Technology Implemented For County Elections

By Amanda PalleschiThe Daily Northwestern

When Evanston resident Pat Jackson voted in March’s primary election, she needed help from precinct volunteers to show her how to use the new optical scan equipment that read her paper ballot. The new ballot equipment would have been difficult to use otherwise, she said.

On Election Day, Jackson will have even more help placing her vote. The 1,300 equipment managers employed by Cook County are trained to deal with two new voting systems, which made their nationwide debut in March.

The equipment managers were hired by suburban Cook County and Chicago officials in part to remedy problems reporting election results during the primary.

“When you bring in changes, it’s challenging,” Cook County Clerk David Orr said. “(Election) judges are human, and humans are not controlled laboratory scientists.”

Unlike the old punch ballots, the new dual ballot systems give voters a choice between optically scanned paper ballots or ballots submitted on a touch screen similar to an ATM. Each electronic vote is still backed up on a paper ballot.

Though there was only one touch screen for each Cook County precinct in the March primary, technical problems occurred with the Hybrid, Activator, Accumulator & Transmitter machine that combines totals from the two systems.

Orr said the new equipment delayed some results, due in part to the judges’ inexperience in fixing problems with the machine that combines the totals.

As a result, the numbers from some Cook County precincts came in as late as the Sunday following elections. Sequoia Voting Systems, its manufacturer, reviewed the device’s operation and will tweak it for easier use Nov. 7.

“We think (the changes) are more consumer friendly,” Orr said.

Orr said he thought the national media unfairly portrayed the problems during the primary election.

“The biggest problem that we had in March was the fact that results came in slower,” Orr said. “The irony is they did not come in that much slower than usual, but these things are political.”

If Evanston voters like Jackson don’t find the system working more smoothly next week, the Evanston-based Illinois Ballot Integrity Project will be ready and waiting to listen to their complaints.

The non-partisan, not-for-profit group aimed at promoting election transparency is in “direct opposition” to the widespread use of the new touch screen machines, said Bob Wilson, chair of the organization’s Cook County chapter.

The organization also discovered last week a security glitch in the Chicago voter registration database that made public the Social Security numbers of more than 1.5 million Chicago voters.

“We feel we’re in a situation where election officials all over the country are strained to the limits of their resources of personnel and expertise,” Wilson said. “As soon as they catch up with one set of new technology, a new layer is put on top of that.”

While Wilson is aware of the efforts of Cook County officials and the changes to the machines, he said his organization will have its own volunteers doing exit polling and surveys to help back up results.

“Will these efforts be effective in curing all of the problems that happened in the primary? My guess is they will not, and we will have more problems on Nov. 7,” Wilson said.

Despite concern from watchdog groups and criticism in the media, Orr said he considers the Cook County primary a success due to the large number of voters who opted to use the touch-screen technology.

“Thirty-seven percent of the electorate in March voted on the touch screens,” Orr said. “People really seem to like them. It’s a mistake to refer to the machines as a colossal failure.”

Though Jackson did not quite get the hang of the optical scan on her own, she said she would like to use a touch screen when she goes to vote in Evanston next week.

“It seems like it might be easier (than the other machine),” she said.

Reach Amanda Palleschi at [email protected].

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New Technology Implemented For County Elections