Pilot of New Voting System is Off to a Strong Start

Staff Report From Georgia CEO

Monday, October 21st, 2019

After the first 1,600 people participated in a pilot of Georgia’s new voting machines, reactions have been favorable, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Wednesday.

In the first three days of voting on the new system in six counties, 1,600 ballots were cast, and operations have been seamless, he said.

“We’ve been pleased that the performance in the field has matched what our tests and evaluations told us, that this system is a good one,” Raffensperger said.

The pilot during the municipal elections is designed to test the new system under actual, working conditions being held in five Georgia counties, Bartow, Carroll, Catoosa, Decatur, Lowndes and Paulding. It’s Georgia voters’ first use in an actual election of a paper-ballot system that lets voters enter their choices on touch-screen terminals which print paper ballots for their review before casting.

A sixth county, Cobb, is testing the state’s new ballot scanning system on hand-marked ballots.

“Voter surveys are 95 percent positive,” said Deb Cox, supervisor of elections in Lowndes County.

The experience is the same in the other pilot counties.

“The voters, 214 so far, have been overwhelmingly positive in response to the new equipment,” said Greg Rigby, supervisor of elections in Carroll County.

The added security of a printed ballot also appeals to voters. It’s one of the main reasons for replacing the 17-year-old touch-screen voting machines currently in use in the rest of the state.

“During the demonstrations and open house and the first couple of days of voting, voters said they liked it,” said Carol Heard, chief election official in Decatur County. “It was easier than they thought, and they really liked the concept of the paper ballot.”

In addition to getting voter reaction, the pilot is also designed to see how well the poll workers in precincts across the state would adjust. While the technology is not radically different from the current system, there are some changes, including using printers, paper and scanners to count each ballot as it drops into a locked ballot box.

“Our poll workers have just really embraced it, and that was surprising,” Heard said.

The Secretary of State is Georgia’s chief election officer, but precincts are run by poll workers trained by the county election’s supervisor. The county elections supervisors receive training from the Secretary of State’s office.

 “For the first time in years ALL poll workers passed poll worker training,” Cox said. “They universally love the new equipment and the ease of use. The new equipment is working beautifully. As election officials, we really like the new technology – and it’s much less complicated and a very logical process. Love it!”

Election supervisors in the pilot counties received training first. Most of their colleagues in other parts of the state are being training in coming weeks, except for those busy conducting municipal elections in non-pilot counties. Their training begins after the Nov. 5 election day.

“The election so far is running very smoothly,” Rigby said. “Poll workers are not having any trouble adapting to the new system.”

The General Assembly authorized replacement of the voting machines. The state inked a contract in July with Denver-based Dominion Voting Systems for the equipment, and it has been assisting with the training.

Already, more than 6,000 touch-screen voting machines have been delivered.

Statewide rollout of the new machines will be in time for the March 24 presidential preference primary.

The pilot’s success suggests the rollout will go well, too, according to the officials.

“So far we have been very impressed with how the new system has performed,” said Joseph Kirk, election supervisor in Bartow County. “All the voters have seemed very pleased with it, and my poll workers are learning how to operate it even faster than I hoped they would. All in all, the first three days of voting have been a success.”

Statewide in the first three days of municipal elections, 14,531 ballots have been cast, 1,600 of them in the pilot counties.