Illini test new voting technologies in today's primary election

Voters showing up in polling places today in Illinois are finding new voting technologies in their polling places, in counties large and small.

For example, in Cook County, voters there will be using voting technology provided by Sequoia Voting Systems. An article in today’s Chicago Tribune summarized well how things will work for voters, and how they may face a problem with ballot design:

In what will be the first major hardware change in more than two decades, most Cook County voters will mark circles on paper ballots and feed them through an optical scanner, while those who are blind, disabled or just curious can use the touch screens, which are needed to meet a federal requirement for the disabled. Blind voters can use an optional audio ballot and keypad on the machine.

The new optical-scan machines will spit out ballots that are “overvoted,” meaning more than one candidate has been incorrectly marked. But they will allow “undervotes,” where people fail to mark a selection.

Election officials are especially concerned that voters will fail to realize the paper ballots have two sides. They plan to play instructional videos on a continuous loop at polling places.

As has been their strategy in the past, Sequoia is providing much assistance to Cook County as they roll out the new voting technologies, with many of the company’s executives and other folks on hand to help with problems; according to the Tribune’s story, the company will have perhaps 70 people on hand to help. Providing additional assistance will be a slew of technology-savvy workers from city and county government offices, approximately 100.

Of course, counties throughout Illinois are making a similar transition to Cook County, even though much of the focus has been on Cook County as it is one of the larger election jurisdictions in the nation. Of particular interest to me is following the transition in Stephenson County — Freeport, Illinois — where my parents once lived and I had the pleasure of spending a few nice summers and college breaks.

According to the Freeport Journal-Standard Stephenson County is also gearing up to use new voting technology, but they are using machines from ESS (63 M-100 machines, which cost the county $375,000 to purchase). No word on whether Stephenson County has vendor support for this roll-out, nor what types of contigency planning they have in place as problems crop up today.

One interesting side note here is that, while Stephenson County’s chief election official is managing this transition, she is also facing reelection on the ballot today. She is listed on the Republican ballot (where she faces a challenger from her party), and there are no Democratic candidates who are on that party’s ballot. So here’s an example of an partisan elected administrator of elections, which has been the subject of recent research by Thad, Morgan Llewellyn and myself, in our paper “Who Should Run Our Elections? Public Opinion About Election Governance in the United States”.

In any case, we’ll keep an eye on what happens in Cook and Stephenson Counties today, and on events in Illinois more generally. While neither of us are on the ground in Illinois today, I’m certain we’ll get email and media coverage of the primary election and any major snafus that arise.