Oktibbeha County will soon get new voting machines for elections.
As the county’s current systems have met their life cycle, election commissioners found a new way for voters in Oktibbeha County to cast their ballots. Purchased from Election Systems and Software, DS200 voting machines will allow voters to cast a paper ballot and submit their voting choices into a machine.
Oktibbeha County Circuit Clerk Tony Rook said these machines are the “best of both worlds” because voters now have the opportunity to physically cast their ballot while in turn placing them into a machine for tallying.
“I’ve had some people say, ‘Well, aren’t you taking a step back by going back to paper?’” Rook said. “I disagree. Actually, this is a prime example of where paper meets technology. … You still have technology, but you’re not relying solely on technology. You have paper ballots.”
After voters show poll workers their ID and sign the registry on election day, they will get a physical ballot to “bubble in,” and once they are finished, they will go to the DS200 machine at their precinct and “feed it into the machine,” similar to a scantron, Rook said.
The county purchased 25 DS200 machines and 25 machines compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act for $250,000. Eighty percent of this cost was funded by the Help America Vote Act grant.
At a press conference Wednesday, Rook said he believes these machines are the best way for Oktibbeha County residents to vote. The past machines were entirely electronic, and because of this, Rook said several voters had expressed skepticism of voter fraud, but by having a physical ballot, he said he hopes voters will be more confident about casting their vote.
“As I have spoken with other circuit clerks throughout the state, and voters as well, the one consistent thing I hear is the voters want to be able to see their ballot,” Rook said. “They want to be able to touch their ballot. They want to be able to hold their ballot. Those are the things that increase voter confidence and that’s what we will have with these machines.”
Each voting precinct will have one machine, with larger precincts having two. Each machine holds about 2,500 votes, which Rook said is more than enough for each precinct.
If a voter were to vote incorrectly, such as voting for too many people in one category, the machine will reject the vote and ask the voter to cast the ballot correctly. The machine will also notify the voter if they have left a category blank before properly tallying the vote.
A secure memory drive within the machine tabulates the votes. A paper trail is also within the machine for election commissioners to ensure voting was performed correctly, Rook said. If an election is a close race or if citizens believe the election was not conducted properly, citizens can ask to see the paper trail.
“In the event of a contested election, and we have had some of these, these new machines will provide us with the option of a paper trail in the form of ballots that can be introduced as evidence in a court of law,” Rook said.
The first election these machines will be utilized will be for the Starkville-Oktibbeha County Consolidated School District board of trustees election Nov. 2. Citizens who live in Oktibbeha County but outside of Starkville city limits have the opportunity to vote for one representative on the board.
While Rook said these machines are the best solution at preventing voter fraud, some citizens in attendance Wednesday still had concerns.
Oktibbeha County resident Ariel Garrick, who recently moved to the county from California with her husband and is not even registered to vote yet, said she wishes she could see her vote displayed on the machine’s screen after she feeds it in, but Rook said this option was impossible. She also said she believes the election commissioners should count every single vote by hand after each election to ensure the machine counted votes correctly.
“If I can’t see how I voted on the screen, I don’t trust it,” Garrick said. “I want a receipt that says how I voted or something, otherwise we’re back where we started from.”
Starkville City Clerk Lesa Hardin, who runs municipal elections, said some people will never have faith in the voting process but believes these new voting machines will be more efficient for both county and city elections.
“I think this is going to help elections,” Hardin said. “It’s got two sources — electronic and paper. The electronic one, you didn’t have paper ballots to back it up. … If after that citizens still don’t have faith in the system, they can ask to have the machines unlocked and see the votes if they want to.”