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Kitsap County upgrades voting system

Election Analyist Tina Agnew demonstrates the voting system install at the Kitsap County Auditor
Election Analyist Tina Agnew demonstrates the voting system install at the Kitsap County Auditor's Office.
— image credit: Dannie Oliveaux/Staff Photo

By SERAINE PAGE | Staff Writer

The election process in Kitsap County is going to be quicker and more efficient, according to local officials.

During a press event Tuesday, staff at the Kitsap County Auditor Office unveiled its newest counting system and improved ballots for voters. The upgrades are just in time for the August primary elections in the county.

"We will have better results on election night," said Kitsap County Auditor Walt Washington. "We needed an upgrade. So we did a search to find a new and better way of doing it."

The current system for counting ballots and casting votes is 17 years old and desperately needed to be upgraded, Washington said. The new system was purchased from Hart InterCivic, an Austin, Texas, company. Several other counties around the state have purchased their new equipment from Hart InterCivic as well.

Kitsap County is the 25th county in the state to implement the new system.

The old equipment was sold back to Dominion, where it was purchased, allowing the county to recoup some of the cost. The new system cost $500,141 and was funded through federal grants from the Office of the Secretary of State under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), Washington said.

Although the changes in the way paper ballots are cast is different, the change is minimal but will be more effective when it comes to tallying votes.

For paper ballots, instead of connecting an arrow, voters will be able to completely fill in the box, use a checkmark or 'X' mark to cast their votes. A blue or black pen should be used instead of a pencil. However, a dark pencil mark will still be read by the new system.

Ballots where there are primary races should arrive in the mail to voters by July 19, said Tina Agnew, elections analyst. Washington state is a vote-by-mail state.

For voters who prefer to visit a precinct, the electronic ballot machine offers better audio and allows voters to receive a precinct-specific ballot instead of a general ballot.

Not many users come in to cast votes on the electronic machines, Agnew said. Only 893 votes were cast electronically last year during the general election in November.

Counting the ballots will be a much easier process, Agnew said. Paper ballots — now thinner than the original cardstock ballots — are scannable and entered into a computer system for analysis by two elections workers. Instead of being manhandled, the computer can scan upwards of 250 ballots per minute, allowing workers to quickly access a large amount of ballots to check for errors such as double votes.

The cost of duplicates votes was exponential in previous years, yet another reason upgrading the system was necessary, Washington said.

In the 2012 election, there were 17,176 duplicated votes that could not be read by the former system. Under the Hart system, damaged ballots and marks in the bar code area will still need duplication.

"When a voter makes a correction on their ballot they cross out one choice and select another," Agnew said. "All ballots with corrections have to be duplicated as well as any damaged ballots, ballots with marks that are too wide and ballots with stray marks."

But the new digital system could prevent all that as it highlights errors in bright colors to alert the worker scanning it that a mistake was made in the voting process.

Other added benefits of upgrading include lighter paper that uses less postage and lower printing costs, according to a fact sheet released by the Kitsap County Auditor's Office. In addition, final processing of ballots can begin the day the ballots are received instead of the following day.

“Our new ballot counting system enables us to further modernize the Elections Division by replacing equipment that was ancient by current standards,” Washington stated in a press release. “I anticipate a marked improvement for voters and Elections Division staff.”

 

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