When voters in Dawson County head to the polls this year to decide the outcome in dozens of different races and ballot items, they’ll cast their votes using an entirely new system and new voting machines, local election officials say.
During a demonstration event on Tuesday night, the Dawson County Board of Election and Registration unveiled a series of new voting machines that are being rolled out across the state of Georgia.
According to local election officials, the machines represent a huge upgrade in the technology of the voting process, replacing dated voting machines with the new Dominion Democracy Suite voting system, which includes a large touchscreen tablet computer that voters use to cast and print their ballots, and a scanner/ballot box system that tabulates votes while retaining a paper backup.
Even with those advances, Glenda Ferguson, Director of the Dawson County Board of Election and Registration said on Jan. 28 that the voting process itself hasn’t really changed; people come in and register with poll workers, make their choices and cast their ballot, and at the end of the night, the votes counted and a winner is chosen.
The differences are in the user-friendliness of the machines and the improved accountability of the process, she said, which hopefully increases voters’ confidence that their vote was cast and counted correctly.
One of the main things that officials pointed to on Tuesday was the printed paper ballot that the new machines will produce for each voter.
On election day voters will make their selections via the touchscreen computer and after a chance to review their choices, the tablet will print an anonymous paper ballot, giving the individual another chance be sure that their vote is correct.
“A lot of people want to see something in front of them, not just on the screen, they want the confidence of having a printed sheet and knowing that's what they voted and it was counted," Ferguson said.
Having a paper trail is huge too, she said. If there were ever to be any inconsistencies in the count, the large black scanner boxes could be opened and the paper ballots could be counted.
None of the machines are connected to the internet in any way; voting data tabulated by the scanners is stored on a memory card which is locked into the machine.
“And if any seal were to be broken come election morning, that unit would be taken out of commission," Ferguson said.
Dawson County will have more than 80 of the new voting machines, along with eight scanners and 16 "Poll Pads" for checking in voters. Officials say that each of the machines has a backup battery, which can power the machines for up to two hours in case of power outages.
From now through the election season, three of the new machines will remain set up at the Dawson County Board of Elections building, at 96 Academy Ave. in Dawsonville, so that members of the public can see the units and try them out.
"If you want to come in and go through it personally and take some time to get more comfortable with the process, we're here Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m." Ferguson said.