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electionlineWeekly--January 12, 2012

Table of Contents

I. In Focus This Week

Mock elections prepare voters for new machines, laws
Oklahoma counties test-run in anticipation of big election year

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While voters in New Hampshire went to the polls for real this week, hundreds of voters throughout the state of Oklahoma headed to the polls to test-drive the state’s new voting machines.

The mock election, occurring in all of the state’s 77 counties this week, was designed to not only acclimate voters with the state’s new voting machines, but to also provide additional training to elections workers and to find any kinks in the process before the state’s March primary.

Oklahoma was ahead of the HAVA curve and had been using optical-scan voting machines for nearly a decade before the infamous election of 2000. The machines the state was most recently using were originally only supposed to last 10 years, but lasted 20 instead.

In 2011 the state spend $16.7 million to purchase the new optical-scan system (eScan A/T ballot scanner) and to lock in current prices for future needs such as software or training.

The new system is almost identical to the old optical-scan system with one change. Voters will no longer connect the arrows next to their candidate of choice—instead they will fill in the oval.

“The mock election has gone great so far,” said Jim Williams, secretary/director of the Cleveland County election board. “We have had 20-30 people show up each day so far to try the new devices.  In addition, we have had over 50 teams of precinct officials come in for a refresher course on the new devices and to cast votes in their individual precincts.”

Williams said the county will be tallying the votes in bulk this Friday when the board plans to have an “Election Night rehearsal” with the new equipment.

Paul Ziriax, secretary of the Oklahoma State Board of Elections said the public portion of the mock election is more like an open house.

And so far, the public has been pretty pleased with the welcome from the new voting machines.

“So far the public feedback about the voting devices to the State Election Board has been generally positive,” Ziriax said. “We are asking the counties to pass along all feedback.”

William said that in addition to the positive voter feedback there have been relatively few problems or issues discovered that would need to be addressed before the primary.

“No problems as such have stood out, but there have been certain “logistical” issues for which we will still need to establish the most effective processes and procedures,” Williams said. “Perhaps the most valuable aspect of the Mock Election is that it has provided us with ‘hands-on’ experience regarding new procedures that we could not have anticipated without the Mock.”

Ziriax did note that there had been some issues with a typo on a Braille label for a button on the audio assistance portion (Audio Tactile Interface), but that the manufacturer will correct it in the coming months.

Because the mock election is held at county offices during regular work hours, the cost to counties has been minimal.

“Mileage for the precinct officials has been the only cost to the county,” said Vera Floyd, secretary/director for of the Beaver County elections board. “The cost has been minimal compared to the benefit of having precinct officials become more familiar with the new system.” 

One of the only differences between the mock election and a real election in Oklahoma, besides no “I Voted” stickers, is that voters are not being asked for identification before casting their mock ballot.

Although many jurisdictions provide new voting machines for public review in advance of elections, not many conduct a mock-election on the scale that Oklahoma is doing this week.

In 2011, Madison, Wis. conducted a mock election to test out the state’s new voter ID law.

“The city of Madison was the only municipality to conduct a mock election to scope out the photo ID implementation challenges,” explained Kevin Kennedy, executive director of the state’s Government Accountability Board. “However other municipalities including the city of Milwaukee have approached the implementation by conducting time trials of elements of the Election Day procedures.”

Counties throughout Wisconsin and Tennessee are also providing “help sessions” to educate voters about the state’s new election laws.

Ziriax said that Oklahoma has a history of mock elections, including testing out the old machinery 20 years ago when it was first used. He said the experience has been nothing but positive for the state.

“I cannot speak for other states, but in Oklahoma we feel the mock elections will help ensure that election officials are well-prepared,” Ziriax said. “We also know it is beneficial to voters when they get a chance to learn about changes before showing up at their polling place. “

Editor’s Note: A special thanks to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics for allowing electionline to use it’s free WiFi to publish this week’s newsletter!