Cobb County’s trial of a paper-ballot voting system, as well as limited use of the state’s new voting machines, were largely successful during this week’s municipal elections, according to Cobb elections officials.
“It went pretty smooth,” said Janine Eveler, director of the Cobb County Board of Elections and Registration. “We had a couple of scanners that had some slowness, or they didn’t receive the ballots in a certain direction, and so once we figured out that if we just flipped the ballot over, they were working. So it’s just getting used to the equipment.”
Eveler said that mix-up did not result in any votes not being counted.
Cobb was one of seven Georgia counties that used some of the state’s 30,000 new voting machines, which will replace the 17-year-old paperless touchscreen voting systems following controversy over their security.
The new machines are expected to go live in all Georgia counties for the March 24 presidential primaries and will cost the state $107 million over the next decade, according to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office.
Unlike the other six counties that employed the new machines for all voters — Bartow, Carroll, Catoosa, Decatur, Lowndes and Paulding — Cobb only used one machine at each of the county’s 16 voting precincts on Election Day.
Cobb piloted the paper ballot system, which would be used as a fail-safe should Georgia’s new electronic voting system not be fully implemented and operational by the presidential primaries. A federal judge required that the pilot be conducted, and Cobb volunteered.
Raffensperger’s office reported Monday that the delivery of the new voting system is proceeding on schedule.
Disabled voters in Cobb, or others who needed assistance at the polls, were permitted to use the new touchscreen voting machines, which print slips of paper showing voters’ choices for review, as well as a bar code to be scanned for tallying. All other voters in Cobb cast their votes on hand-marked paper ballots, which were also inserted into a scanner for tallying.
Some counties using the new machines, including Decatur and Lowndes at the Georgia-Florida border, reported issues with sign-in during Tuesday’s elections. The issue, Eveler said, was that poll workers were being prompted during the sign-in process to choose a Republican or Democrat ballot to encode on cards that would display a ballot on the screen for a voter.
This November’s municipal elections were nonpartisan.
“So the poll workers couldn’t proceed to encode the card because they couldn’t get past that,” Eveler said.
The same issue appeared in Cobb as well, but technicians were already in the field and stopped by each polling location to remedy the situation, she said. Since very few voters were using the new voting machines in Cobb, the error didn’t slow voting.
“(There was) only one incident that I heard of directly, where a disabled voter wanted to use a ballot-marking device (and) was not able to,” Eveler said, adding that the voter’s husband was able to help her cast a ballot. “But we prefer that the voter have the independence to vote however they want.”
Eveler said it is so far unclear how many Cobb voters cast ballots on the new machines, but that information will be available soon.
Some lines appeared at polling locations in Smyrna, where turnout was higher than expected, according to Eveler. The lines could mean more check-in systems or ballot scanners may be needed in that city in future elections, Eveler said.
Smyrna saw 7,907 voters cast ballots. That number represents about a fifth of the city’s registered voters.
“That’s healthy for a municipal election,” she said.
Cobb elections officials are expected to meet with the state, voting machine vendors and officials from the other six counties that piloted the new machines in coming weeks to analyze the successes and shortfalls of the new voting system, and there will be lots to hammer out, Eveler said. But she remained confident that the new machines will improve the voting experience for Georgia voters.
“I think the machines will provide the voters with a really great voting experience with the screen and the visual features that it has, and then the security assurance of having a paper record,” Eveler said.