Ada County Voters Test New Ballot-Scanning Equipment 

click to enlarge New voting equipment will appear at more than 150 Ada County polling places. - GEORGE PRENTICE
  • George Prentice
  • New voting equipment will appear at more than 150 Ada County polling places.

Ada County Clerk Christopher Rich said he was't exactly excited for Saturday's public unveiling of the county's new high-tech election scanning equipment. "Let's say I'm anxious," he said. "I'm anxious to give this new equipment the real test."

Rich and his Ada County elections colleagues gave voters the first public test of the equipment at six locations Feb. 20 in anticipation of the upcoming March 8 GOP presidential primary election. Voters were asked to participate in a mock election, in which the ballot asked voters' opinions on county infrastructure, parks and early voting sites.

Officials said the old vote-counting equipment was outdated and slow.

"For example, during the 2014 election, I remember counting ballots until seven the next morning," said Ada County elections employee Micki Love. "With this new equipment, we should have most of the results by about 11 p.m."

Rich said the county has invested approximately $1.6 million for more than 150 new voting machines. 

"But we should see some significant savings by not working those long hours to get the results," he said. "Plus, our previous equipment required a very particular type of paper for our ballots. That used to cost us 34 cents per sheet. The new ballots should cost us about 22 cents per sheet."

As for the voting experience, Ada County voters will again be given ballots at polling places. Like before, they will fill in ovals for the appropriate candidates or initiatives, but then the voter will feed their own ballot into new equipment, which will record the vote and secure the ballot in a locked compartment below the scanner. The equipment will also scan write-in votes. When the polls close, the equipment will have an instant tally. At that point, election workers will count the ballots to reconcile how many have been scanned.

The equipment will get its first official work-out beginning Monday, Feb. 22, when Ada County launches early voting for the March 8 GOP primary. Early voting will take place 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday with special Saturday hours—10 am. to 4 pm.—offered Saturday, Feb. 27. Three locations will offer early voting: the Ada County Elections Office at 440 Benjamin Lane, The Ada County Indigent Services Building (next to the Ada County Courthouse) at 252 Front Street and at Meridian City Hall.

Rich said he'd like to see more early voting locations available to Ada County voters. Plus, he said he's regularly talking with local school officials about accommodating polling places at so many schools.

"Sometimes, it can be rather burdensome to hold an election while a school is in session. It's difficult to get parking and, of course, they've got a school to run," said Rich. "We're talking to officials about the possibility of making Election Day one of the school's in-service days, where they don't have to hold class on that same day."
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