Montgomery County voters can test-drive new voting machines

County is looking to change voting machines for the May 2019 election, ahead of the 2020 presidential race.

Montgomery County voters will get to test voting machines next week, casting their own ballots for the county’s next elections system.

The Montgomery County Board of Elections will open Tuesday for a “Mock Election Open House.” Residents can experience voting on several systems the county is considering to buy for future elections.

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“This is an exciting opportunity for our citizens to test out new voting equipment options and provide meaningful feedback in the decision making process,” said elections board Director Jan Kelly. “We invite all members of the public to participate in a mock election while getting a chance to see, touch and test voting equipment.”

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A vast majority of Ohio’s voting machines — purchased in 2005 and 2006 with federal funding — are becoming obsolete. The 2,300 touch-screen voting machines used in Montgomery County were built in 2003 using “technology from the Blackberry days,” Kelly has said.

State legislators approved distributing $114.5 million to Ohio’s 88 county boards of elections to update voting equipment in advance of the 2020 presidential election. Replacing all of Montgomery County’s current voting equipment is projected to cost $8 million. The county is expected to receive $4.2 to $4.5 million in state funding, according to elections officials.

Kelly said earlier that many county voters will likely be marking paper ballots in the future rather than voting on touchscreen machines like those now in use.

“It could be a departure for the polling locations,” Kelly said last month. “They really aren’t like what we have now.”

Voters in Montgomery County along with those in Butler, Darke, Greene and Miami counties and 36 others, currently use DRE machines, or direct-recording electronic voting machines that have touchscreens.

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Nationwide, 47 percent of American registered voters in November 2016 lived in jurisdictions that use only optical-scan technology. Optical scan readers require voters fill in bubbles, complete arrows or make other machine-readable marks on paper. That year, 28 percent lived in DRE-only jurisdictions; another 19 percent lived in jurisdictions where both were used, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Verified Voting Foundation data.

The county plans to have new machines up and running for the May 2019 election and could end up with a couple types, Kelly said. Early voters at the Board of Elections may use a hybrid system with a touchscreen while those who vote at their precincts may cast votes on paper with a marker.

Elections officials are now preparing for Nov. 6 balloting when Ohio voters will be choosing a new governor, statewide leaders, members of Congress and the General Assembly.

The last day to register to vote is Oct. 9. Early voting begins Oct. 10 for the election that also includes county offices, a state issue and hundreds of tax levies and school issues.

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