Doing Away with Digital

In an age where many things that were once paper are now computerized, paper ballots seem to be turning back the clock. Going against the trend, ballots are now being brought back as paper ballots for the upcoming county election. In the spirit of democracy, of the people, by the people, for the people, the electorate has spoken: they are tired of fancy voting machines.

Since 1991, Arlington County has used electronic ballot systems for each general and presidential election, as well as special elections. In 2003, they adopted the most recent WinVote models.

A recent review by the Commissioner of Elections Edgardo Cortés called to address alternatives for the voting machines, citing vulnerabilities. The WinVote machines are to be decertified and prohibited at all 53 precincts. The county said in their review that they hope paper ballots speed up the voting process and make voting more convenient and conventional.

However, the General Assembly in 2007 passed a law stating electronic ballots must be switched with paper ballots when a change in voting equipment is to be made, like in this case. Arlington estimates that the new equipment, totaling at 60 digital scanners for precincts and absentee voting, will cost $750,000. This money will be accounted for in the upcoming budget proposal.

A voter upon entering the precinct will have their voter information verified, then be given a paper ballot. Once completed, the ballot will be run through a scanner, which records, saves and copies the ballots for tallying later. For those who need assistance, a special touchscreen or audio selection ballot station will be provided. When completed, a paper ballot will be produced to insert into the scanner with the other votes.

In their press release, the county stated the paper ballots will be available to more voters so they can make ballots at any time as long as there an equal amount of marking stations. The old machines were limited in amount and some voters could take longer than others, which slowed the process. Paper ballots also have a strong track record as being useable in power outages as well as physical evidence of a vote being cast.

The paper ballots will first be used for the June Democratic Primary for the County Board. In November, they will be used for the general election, and in 2016, they will be used for the presidential election. Greater amounts of voters will require precincts to have more ballots and scanners, which will be considered by the County in their budget.

The county has called the change “back to the future,” coining the phrase relating to going back to old methods to improve future voting. No matter the ballot, the elections will stay the same.