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CALDWELL — Thursday morning the Canyon County Elections Office was bustling with county and poll workers unpacking the county’s new voting equipment to prepare for Election Day on March 10.

Canyon County voters this election are using the new $3 million system for the first time, a system that will use both an electronic and paper ballot system.

Canyon County Clerk Chris Yamamoto said the new system isn’t really “electronic voting,” because the machines print out a completed paper ballot once votes are cast.

“What the machines are doing is it is running the pencil for you, it prints out a paper ballot that we store. We have it on digital, but we also have a paper ballot,” Yamamoto said.

Voters who have participated in early voting have already used the system under the guidance of trained poll workers.

Canyon County Election equipment

Canyon County Elections Supervisor Hailey Hicks demonstrates how to use the new voting equipment at the elections office in Caldwell, Thursday, March 5, 2020.

HOW THE MACHINES WORK

Hailey Hicks, elections supervisor, walked the Idaho Press through the ballot casting process on Thursday.

1. Sign in on the poll pad

When the voter comes into their designated precinct, a poll worker checks them in with their Idaho driver’s license on a machine called a poll pad. The poll pad, which looks like an iPad, will scan the bar code on the driver’s license and pull up the voter registration information.

On the poll pad, the poll worker can help the voter change party affiliation if they wish. The voter is then asked to identify that their voter information is correct and sign the poll pad. The poll worker then signs too, and the poll pad prints out a ballot ticket that the voter takes to the next machine.

2. Retrieve ballot

On the next machine, the voter scans the bar code on their ballot ticket and the machine pulls up their correct ballot and an access code. The ballot is printed and the voter puts it in a manila envelope for privacy.

3. ‘Duo’: Mark ballot

The third machine is called the Duo, where voters will mark their ballots. The voter, with help from another poll worker, inserts their blank ballot into the machine. They’ll then follow instructions on the screen to make their ballot choices. The voter can review their choices and then the ballot is printed out.

4. Scan ballot

The last machine is the ballot counter, or scanner. The voter puts their completed ballot into the scanner. When they see a flag pop up on the scanner, that means they have voted.

While the process seems more daunting than filling out a piece of paper, Yamamoto said that so far in early voting, “Most of the comments as people walk out the door have been, ‘Woah, that was a piece of cake.’”

Yamamoto said he has only gotten one complaint about the system since early voting began Feb. 24.

POLL WORKER TRAINING

Hicks said there will be a Caldwell High School student at every precinct on March 10, helping voters understand the technology of the process.

She said each precinct will have three poll pads, the machine where voters check in, and a poll worker at each poll pad. There will be a poll worker at the ballot scanner and poll workers wandering to help voters with any concerns they may have.

Hicks said the elections office hasn’t had to hire more poll works than for a typical election, but they did have longer trainings, sometimes lasting over three hours. Some workers were insecure about using the technology, but the elections office had replacements come in for any workers who didn’t want to use the technology.

“The poll workers have left really happy,” Hicks said. “They were nervous going in, but at the end they said, ‘This is going to be so much better.’”

The equipment will remove the risk of human error when it comes to distributing the right ballot to each voter, Hicks said in a county meeting in January. The ballot counting machine will also indicate whether a voter needs to cast a new ballot because theirs was marked incorrectly, instead of the county having to address incorrect ballot fill-ins at the end of election night.

The ballot-counting machine will also count ballots at each precinct, instead of every ballot being counted at the end of the night. This will save time at the end of the night, Yamamoto said.

Yamamoto, who was also at some trainings, said it was “intense,” but encouraging because he would start to “see the light bulb coming on as they went through it.”

NEW MACHINES

The county earlier this year purchased just over 1,000 new election equipment pieces from Texas-based Hart InterCivic for roughly $3 million.

Canyon County has previously had long nights of counting election ballots, but Yamamoto said the new system will help with this. He said he doesn’t want to make a prediction with a brand new system, but he hopes the office will be done counting ballots by 11 p.m. Tuesday.

Yamamoto and Hicks both said Ada County uses some Hart equipment, but does not have the electronic marking device. Ada County voters still use paper and pencil to fill out their ballots.

With the tabulation machine, Hicks said her favorite part is “the voter knows immediately if there is any issue with their ballot.”

Yamamoto said the elections office is the first to use the whole Hart election system. He said Canyon County is adopting a process that is new to Idaho, but has been used in Texas and California.

“What I am telling people is this is brand new, it is a step-by-step process. Read the screen, know what you are voting on before you step up and take time at the machine,” Yamamoto said.

SECURITY

Data security is a concern for election offices across the country during elections, but Hicks said she is confident in the security of Canyon County’s new system.

She said the poll pads are the only devices connected to the internet, and they hold only voter registration data, which is already public record.

Hicks said if a poll pad is stolen, the elections office can call Hart InterCivic, the maker of the machines, which can remove everything from device.

None of the other equipment is connected to the internet, she said. The machines do not retain any voter ballot data, they simply hold unfilled ballots and the tabulator machine puts the counts onto a thumb drive that is under lock and key. The poll workers do not have access to the key.

If the internet went down in Canyon County on Tuesday, Hicks said the poll pad could still be used to check in voters, it just couldn’t be used for poll workers to message the elections office with any questions that may come up during the day.

If the power went out, Hicks said all of the machines have batteries that last up to six hours, and the elections office has replacement batteries they can install if need be.

“We are prepared,” Hicks said.

Rachel Spacek is the Latino Affairs and Canyon County reporter for the Idaho Press. You can reach her at rspacek@idahopress.com. Follow her on twitter @RachelSpacek.

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