“We’re just trying to get this out into the community so people can get used to the equipment and get comfortable with it,” Ottawa County Elections Coordinator Steve Daitch said.
To provide a hands-on trial of the new machines, county elections officials are heading to both Loutit District Library in Grand Haven and Herrick District Library in Holland next week.
“We wanted to hit the couple of places where August is going to be the first rollout of the equipment,” Daitch said. “We’re going to be at Loutit from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the 18th (and) we’ll be at Herrick in Holland from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on the 20th.”
The county, with help from the state, purchased the new voting equipment earlier this year from Austin, Texas-based Hart InterCivic, a federally certified elections software vendor. This is the first time the county has updated its voting equipment in more than a decade.
County officials say the new system was selected based on its security, accuracy and ease of use. The system is certified for electronic transmission of election results, and ballot programming and vote tabulation are never connected through the internet. Devices are also rigorously tested for accuracy prior to each election, Daitch said.
Once voters have finished marking their paper ballot, they’ll insert it into a new touch-screen scanner. The process, Daitch said, is similar to the system that was previously used by the county.
Voters who need physical assistance can utilize the Verity Touch Writer, a new portable touch-screen ballot-marking device that includes an audio reader and accommodates adaptive devices such as a sip-and-puff. Sip-and-puff is assistive technology used to send signals to a device using air pressure by "sipping" (inhaling) or "puffing" (exhaling) on a straw, tube or "wand." It is primarily used by people who do not have the use of their hands.
“That’s significantly better than the piece of equipment that it is replacing,” Daitch said. “Anybody can come and take a look at that and get a sense of using that equipment, too.”
After the polls close on election nights, results will be securely and automatically transmitted to the County Clerk’s Office from each ballot-scanning device using a cellular modem, Daitch said. He said that should decrease the wait time for results.
“It will be a bigger change for our clerks and our election workers than it will be for our voters,” Daitch said. “It’s more intuitive than the other system.”
The county has worked with both the equipment vendor and the Michigan Secretary of State in the lead up to the Aug. 8 primary to learn how to use the new machines, Daitch noted.
“We only have 11 precincts open in August,” Daitch said. “... That will allow us a lot of flexibility to look at what is going on on election day. We get to be a lot more hands-on.”
The county plans to host more hands-on events following the August election, including events in Spring Lake and Zeeland in September.