Voting machines

Jackson County taxpayers will have to foot the bill for new voting machines as a result of a new law that requires machines to produce a paper ballot. Local Board of Elections Director Lisa Lovedahl estimates the cost between a quarter and a half-million dollars to replace the county’s existing 120 machines. The machines the county uses produce an ‘audit log’ that is printed alongside the touch screen; however that log is not acceptable as a ballot under the new law. New machines will be required to print an actual ballot that the voter will then feed into a scanner to record their vote. The law goes into effect in 2018.

Jackson County taxpayers would be forced to update the county’s voting machines to the tune of some half-million dollars under legislation that’s awaiting Gov. Pat McCrory’s signature.

The new bill would require counties by 2018 to use machines that produce paper ballots.

“Ours will not work because they do not produce an actual ballot,” said Lisa Lovedahl, director of Jackson County Board of Elections.

Except for not meeting the exact specifications of the legislation, Lovedahl said, the election equipment used by Jackson County “works very well – they are good machines.”

Lovedahl said the machines have been well maintained and function almost flawlessly.

New voting machines aren’t the only changes contained in the sweeping bill passed by the N.C. General Assembly.

The bill compresses the time for early voting and eliminates straight-ticket voting beginning with the 2014 election cycle, and it requires voter photo identification starting in 2016 (a driver’s license, passport, military or veteran I.D., or other government-issued I.D.). Provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct would no longer count.

Lovedahl said the photos for voter identification must bear “ a reasonable resemblance” as determined by election officials present at polling sites. If the photo does not bear a reasonable resemblance, election judges at each precinct and one-stop voting sites would make a ruling about whether the individual would be allowed to vote. There will be a protocol established by the state Board of Elections if McCrory approves the legislation as expected, she said.

Each precinct and one-stop voting site includes a chief judge and one judge from the Democratic Party and one from the Republican Party.

Lovedahl said there would be future voter education programs on the requirements for voter ID. The details about those programs haven’t been released, she said.

“There’s a lot we don’t know yet until we get more direction from the state,” Lovedahl said.

Early voting, a period that will be shortened from 17 to 10 days, is popular in Jackson County.

In 2010, 2 percent of Jackson County voters cast their ballots by mail, 40 percent voted at one of five early voting sites and 58 percent voted on Election Day. The early voting numbers increased in 2012, with 4 percent of voters casting their ballots by mail, 55 percent voting at the early voting sites and 41 percent voting on Election Day.

Although the legislation would reduce the early voting period, Lovedahl said that it mandates more hours of voting in fewer days. That could be accomplished by lengthening the hours polling sites are open, she said.