Washington County officials invite observers to test of new election equipment

Steve Lyon

Employees in the Washington County clerk’s office participated in testing new ballot scanning  and tabulating equipment the county will use for the primary election and general election.
 County officials were joined by representatives from the local Republican and Democratic parties to view a demonstration of the election equipment and software on Friday at the courthouse.
 The accuracy testing was conducted by Will Nesbitt, an account representative with equipment vendor Idaho Election Systems and Software.
 The DS200 precinct scanner and tabulator purchased by the county scans ballots, records the results in a database and prints out the election results, while retaining the paper ballots in a locked box as backup.
 The optical scan device has been certified for use by state election officials, a requirement under state law. The same model of scanner and vote tabulator made by ESS has been in use for elections in Idaho for five years, Nesbitt said.
 The high-tech equipment will replace the time-consuming practice of poll workers counting the ballots by hand once the polls closed. Each precinct in the county will have one of the election systems on site when in-person voting resumes.
 Rather than mark an X on the ballot, voters fill in ovals with a black pen next to their candidate of choice. The ballot is then inserted by the voter into the machine, which scans the ballot and records the results. The machine can store up to 2,500 paper ballots in the main ballot compartment and also has an auxiliary ballot compartment.
 During in-person elections in the future, voters will insert their completed ballot into the scanner and tabulator. The device has a touch screen and display, which provides voters with instructions and immediate feedback after they insert a ballot.
 The technology in the scanner and vote tabulator ensures even the most poorly marked ballots are read accurately and consistently, protecting voter intent. If a ballot is marked wrong, such as an overvote when too many ovals are filled out, the machine will reject the ballot. Poll officials can void the bad ballot and issue a new one to a voter.
 After the polls close, a button is pushed to close the polls on the device. The election results are downloaded from the vote scanner and tabulator onto an encrypted thumb drive, which is read by a computer that can print out the results in many formats. The computer reading the thumb drive with the results is “hardened” for security and cannot be connected to the internet.
 Nesbitt answered a few questions from the observers about the election equipment. The device has a battery backup if the power goes out. The operating system controls, limits and detects unauthorized access to all critical data.
 For the accuracy test on Friday at the courthouse, 74 sample ballots were prepared in advance on April 27 and the results of the voting were known.
 Once all the sample ballots were tabulated by the machine, the test results matched exactly the results that were known in advance.
 The scanner and vote tabulator system will be used in the upcoming all-mail primary election. Voters must return their completed absentee ballots back to the county clerk’s office by 8 p.m. on June 2  to be counted.
 Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney and Gov. Brad Little made the decision in late March to conduct the May 19 primary election entirely by absentee voting, citing the risks posed to poll workers and the public from the coronavirus.


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