new voting machines

Glynn County Board of Elections chairwoman Patty Gibson tries out the new voting machine following a board meeting in October.

The switch to new state-mandated voting machines may be a big change for voters, but the Glynn County Board of Elections has a lot to learn before its first time using the machines in March.

According to Gabriel Sterling, chief operations officer for the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, Glynn County’s machines will arrive around Jan. 22.

An increase from the 224 machines the county currently has, the state is supplying a total of 255 touchscreen ballot-marking devices, as well as the associated printers, power supplies, privacy screens and carrying cases.

Another 26 scanners, 52 poll books, a central scanner and mobile ballot printer for absentee and provisional, amounts to several hundred new pieces of equipment, Sterling said.

Glynn County was slated to get less, but the state has made it a mission to make sure every county has at least one voting machine for every 225 registered voters. Every county gets exactly as many new machines as it had old machines, while those with fewer get as many more machines as they need to reach that 1-to-225 ratio, Sterling said.

In total, the state is sending out 32,000 touchscreens and around 110,000 pieces of equipment. As of Friday, Sterling said around 70 percent of it had been delivered.

Machines are checked by the secretary of state’s office and sealed with a plastic seal, Sterling said, which should remain intact until the machines are in the possession of local elections officials. If the seal is broken, the machines are checked for tampering and replaced if necessary.

On the local side, Elections and Registration Supervisor Chris Channell said the elections board is preparing for big changes in security, staffing and equipment storage and transport.

“The fact is we’re dealing with paper ballots now, which have to be secured and brought down (from polling places to the elections office),” said Patty Gibson, board chair.

While the official rules have not been decided upon, Channell said he expects to see heightened levels of security around voting and polling machines in every respect.

Security isn’t the only concern, as the board will have to allocate more resources across the board to future elections: increased staffing at polling places, more personnel to move the new equipment and the added cost of paper ballots.

Unlike the old machines, the new voting machines supplied by the state include a printed component. Once a voter casts their ballot on a touchscreen pad, a connected printer will print their ballot.

The voter can then review their ballot before running it through a scanner. Their vote is not counted until it goes through the scanner and falls into the ballot box below.

“There’s just a whole lot of issues that are starting to come into focus,” Channell said.

“Paper cost and toner and that kind of thing,” Gibson added.

Currently, it looks like elections board will have to buy ballot paper through Dominion Voting — the manufacturer of the new machines — which costs more than what they would have to pay from other companies that sell the same paper, Channell said.

Also, if a polling place loses power and runs out of backup power, the board must keep an “adequate” number of hand-marked paper ballots on hand and a secure means of transporting more unmarked paper ballots to the polling places.

“How much is an adequate number of emergency ballots?” Channell said. “There’s just a lot of procedures that have to be determined and how we’re going to deal with it from our office.”

Regardless, knowing when the machines are coming is a big deal, he said.

“I feel very fortunate that we are now on the list,” Channell said.

“With only two machines, it’s very hard to do poll worker training,” Gibson said. “You want all of them to have a hands-on, but two machines limits how much hands-on time they get.”

Due to the greater number of parts in these new machines, the board has had to construct new shelving in its security room with permanent charging stations. Where the old machines took up about a third of the storage space, the new equipment will take up the entire space.

Aside from the new rules, the board is still waiting for the secretary of state’s office to give some indication of when it will pick up the old machines. Because of a lawsuit resulting from the 2018 midterm elections, the machines can’t be disposed of yet.

“We’ve still got a whole room full of our old equipment in the back, and we have absolutely no idea when that’s going to be picked up,” Channell said.

In the meantime, the board will store its old election machines elsewhere, but under a comparable level of security, he said.

“It’s not like we’re just setting them on the curb,” Channell said.

Those interested in learning how to use the new voting machines can stop by the board’s office at 1815 Gloucester St. in Brunswick Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Channell said board staff will set up demonstration machines by appointment as well. For more information, contact the board at 912-554-7060.

A schedule of events and civic group appearances is on the way as well, Gibson said.

Early voting in the upcoming presidential preference primary is set to begin March 2.

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