MARIETTA — Some of the first of Georgia’s 30,000 new voting machines have arrived in Cobb County as elections officials prepare to transition to the new machines next year.
The new machines are expected to cost the state $107 million over the next decade, according to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office.
The machines Cobb has used until now have been deactivated and are being replaced following controversy over the security of the 17-year-old paperless touchscreen system.
The new voting system allows voters to make their selections on a more modern touchscreen device and prints a reviewable sheet of paper with a bar code and names of selected candidates that is fed into a scanner for tallying, according to Janine Eveler, director of the Cobb County Board of Elections & Registration. The new system will be fully implemented during the March presidential primaries.
For this November’s municipal elections, Eveler said the county will set up one new machine at each of the polling locations in Cobb — five early and advanced voting locations and 16 Election Day precinct locations.
These 21 machines, which look like giant tablets, will be used by disabled voters only, while the rest of the county’s voters pilot a hand-marked paper ballot system, she said. Four more machines will stay at the elections office for training or replacement needs.
The hand-marked paper ballot system is being piloted as a fail safe in case the new system is not implemented by March 2020.
Eveler said Cobb volunteered for the pilot program after a judge ordered paper ballots be tested ahead of the new machines’ implementation across the state.
Cobb voters using paper ballots this November will color in bubbles next to the candidate they wish to vote for and then feed their ballot into a scanner for tallying, Eveler said.
She said the state is sponsoring the project at no cost to the county or Cobb cities.
For the March election, Eveler said the county will have around 2,100 of the new machines ready to go.
“A lot of folks are going to really love the display of it. It offers audio ballot, plus large text, if people like to see it even bigger. There is a language translator in it,” Eveler said. “It has a lot of functionality, in addition to the fact that you just have paper.”
The Cobb board is piloting the paper ballot method for the elections it is managing in November for the cities of Smyrna, Kennesaw, Powder Springs and Austell.
Acworth is managing its own municipal elections this year, using its existing paper ballot system, and Marietta is not holding elections in November because none of its elected members are up for re-election.
In the four Cobb cities where the board manages elections, the hand-marked paper ballot trial will be conducted on Nov. 5 and in any subsequent runoffs as an extra safeguard to address concerns and any surprise problems associated with the statewide switch to new electronic voting machines in 2020, according to the elections office.
“If for any reason there was a delay in the implementation of all of those 30,000 units, then we have to have a way to do elections next year in some other fashion,” Eveler said.
The paper ballot system and the new machines are more secure systems, she said, because they allow for auditing.
Eveler also said Cobb elections will test the new voter check-in system, which uses iPads, starting in November. The iPads arrived Monday, and elections officials were trained on them Wednesday, she said.
She said an estimated 600 of the iPad check-in systems will be available for use in March. Eveler said she expects the new technology could help to speed up the voting process.