New voting equipment making debut in West Michigan

Hart ES&S Dominion
Left to right: Hart, Election Systems & Software and Dominion's voting systems.


GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — Some voters will encounter a new machine to cast their ballot when they head to the polls Aug. 8.

The primary election is the first when new voting machines will be used in 11 Michigan counties, including Ottawa and Muskegon.

Both counties purchased systems from a company called Hart, which is one of three vendors approved by the state. The other systems are from Elections Systems & Software and Dominion.

An additional 38 other Michigan counties will roll out their machines for the November general election. All Michigan counties will be using new voting equipment by the November 2018 general election.

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No matter which system your county chooses, the process of voting will be very similar.

“It’s going to look a little different, but it’s going to function very much the same way. Filling out a paper ballot and inserting it,” explained Ottawa County Clerk Justin Roebuck.

The big change: the new machines will take a digital scan of your ballot as it is fed through. The digital scan is more accurate than the old optical scanners.

“Essentially any mark within that box can be read. So for example, if a voter is doing a check mark, or a cross, x-mark, or something of that nature, anything within that box is going to be able to be picked up by the equipment,” said Roebuck, who is still asking voters to completely fill in whatever box they select.

Every system also has a new encrypted function to transmit results directly from the tabulator to the county clerk, making it possible to report results faster. However, clerks caution that the directly transmitted results are unofficial. The official numbers will still come from local clerks and through a post-election certification.

“If everything else fails, we still have a paper ballot that we could hand count if we had to,” said Kalamazoo County Clerk Tim Snow.

The new equipment is an upgrade from systems purchased in 2004 using money from the Help America Vote Act, which aimed to improve the nation’s election system following the 2000 presidential election.

Michigan had $30 million left over from the 2004 upgrades. That money and additional funds from the state covered the cost of one tabulator and one Americans with Disabilities Act compliant voting machine for every precinct in the state.

NEW VOTING MACHINE ROLLOUT BY COUNTY

The following list shows the county-by-county schedule for when the new equipment will make its election debut, as well as the vendor chosen by the county.

Aug. 8, 2017:

  • Ottawa County | Hart system
  • Muskegon County | Hart system

Nov. 7, 2017:

  • Kalamazoo County | ES&S system
  • Kent County | Dominion system
  • Calhoun County | Dominion system
  • Branch County | Dominion system
  • Mecosta County | Dominion system
  • Newaygo County | Dominion system
  • St. Joseph County | Dominion system
  • Van Buren County | Dominion system

2018:

  • Allegan County | Dominion system
  • Barry County | Dominion system
  • Ionia County | Hart system
  • Montcalm County | Hart system
  • Oceana County | Dominion system

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN VENDOR SYSTEMS

Dominion ES&S and Hart’s systems all feature a paper ballot that will be fed into a digital-scan tabulator to be counted. All of their ADA complaint machines feature touch screens that print the votes to a paper ballot that can be fed into the tabulator. But there are some differences.

Dominion
An undated photo shows updated voting equipment provided by Dominion.

Dominion: Distributed by Election Source in Grand Rapids, the Dominion voting system has been selected by 77 percent of Michigan counties.The ballots for the Dominion system will look a lot like the ones voters are used to seeing. The tabulator has a screen on the right of the machine that will tell voters if their ballot has been cast, or if they have made a mistake. Two buttons on the machine allow the voter to get their ballot back or to cast the ballot anyway.

Election Systems and Software
An undated photo shows updated voting equipment provided by Election Systems and Software.

ES&S: Kalamazoo County is the only county in West Michigan that opted to remain with ES&S as their vendor. The new tabulators feature a large screen for voter information. This includes telling voters that their ballot has been cast and identifying errors on the ballot. Voters are able to choose to get their ballot back or to cast it anyway. Kalamazoo County voters will still fill-in ovals next to the candidate’s name, but the ovals have been moved to the left side of the candidate’s name.

Hart
An undated photo shows updated voting equipment provided by Hart.

Hart: Four West Michigan counties will use voting systems from Hart. These feature a large screen on the tabulator. The screen will tell voters their ballot has been cast or identify the races where a voter has made an error. Voters can then choose to revise their ballot or cast it anyway. The ballot itself looks different than Michigan ballots of the past. Instead of an oval, voters will fill in a larger box. That box has also been moved to the left of the candidate’s name.

BALLOT CHANGES

Users of the Hart system and Kalamazoo voters will find the box or oval to select a candidate has been moved to the left of the candidate’s name. The Ottawa County clerk says the change is based on a national ballot design study.

“Our mind goes to that left side to make a selection. That’s what the research found and that’s what we’ve kind of rolled into this new ballot design,” explained Roebuck.

Not everyone will be making the change. Most counties will still have the oval to the right of the candidate’s name. The Michigan Secretary of State is in charge of Michigan elections. A spokesperson tells 24 Hour News 8 there are currently no plans to standardize selection boxes or bubbles.

VOTING SECURITY

The new changes may raise some people’s concern about ballot security.

“What I want voters to know is that we take election security very seriously,” said Roebuck. “This equipment is never connected to the internet.”

Each of the three systems approved by the state uses its own special encryption. Vote totals are transmitted to county clerks in two ways: through a secure cellular connection and by physically transporting the secure voting records.

The first method is new for Michigan voters. When the polls close, the tabulators will transmit their encrypted results directly to the county clerk through the secure cellular connection. The county clerk will decrypt the results and can then publicly post these unofficial numbers.

Poll workers will also secure the vote totals from the machines and transport the results to the local clerks, who will pass this on to the county clerk as they have in the past.

Clerks 24 Hour News 8 spoke with feel confident in the security of the machines and the reporting of the results. However, if someone was able to hack a machine or manipulate the results, there are additional safeguards. Every county still does an audit of their vote, and can go back to the paper ballots if there is any concern about the results that have been reported.

“Anything that’s received in on election night is all unofficial anyway,” said Snow.

Results aren’t official until they are certified by the board of canvassers.