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Millbrook debuts new voting machines

MILLBROOK — The new voting machines passed their first election trial at the Millbrook firehouse on Primary Day, with heavier turnout than usual for a non-presidential year primary. Instead of stepping into a booth, closing a curtain and pulling a lever, each voter received a paper ballot for their party’s primaries. The ballots were in privacy folders, which voters took to voting stations shielded on three sides.

Like a standardized test, there were clear instructions on how to fill in the circles for the candidates. Do not check, circle or mark with an X. Mary Morse’s only complaint was that the pen provided was running dry. Judy Bondis was surprised that the much-heralded new voting machines involved paper. Debbie Wright, in her first year as election coordinator, was very pleased, although she did make one observation.

“One problem for the inspectors was that the budget cuts at the Board of Elections allowed for only one training per inspector,” she said, although that was apparently enough for the team at the firehouse.

After completing the ballot, each voter inserted the privacy folder with the ballot inside into an optical scanning machine called a BMD, or ballot marking device. The machine reads and records all ballots with filled-in bubbles and deposits them in a bin inside. Write-ins are separated and stored in a separate bin to be examined by human eyes.

The most common reasons for the machine rejecting a ballot were when voters chose two candidates for the same office and when votersincorrectly marked the ballot. If a ballot is rejected the voter gets a new one and tries again. For the handicapped, who are unable to use a pen, there is a “sip and puff” device that permits selecting candidates using your breath.

After the polls closed, every BMD machine produced two printed copies of the results. One was posted at the polling place and the other was inserted in a zipped and locked canvas speed bag with a memory stick from the BMD, which had digitally captured each vote. The locked bag was taken by a chain of custody and eventually delivered late in the evening to the Dutchess County Board of Elections in Poughkeepsie.

The day after the elections, Millbrook’s sealed BMD machines, with the marked paper ballots inside, were picked up and moved to the Old Fargo Building in Salt Point. One-third of the voting machines from each polling place will be sampled and the paper ballot results will then  be compared to the results printed out from the memory sticks.

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