Paper ballots to replace 'curtain' voting in Nov.

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By Brent Schanding

Say goodbye to the curtains.

Election officials will retire the county's 27 curtain-veiled voting machines after the May primary in favor of a more basic paper ballot system, County Clerk Juanita Lashley said. Some say it will simplify the voting process, allowing poll workers to tally votes immediately using a computerized cartridge. The modified system will, like other systems, offer receipts to federal election officials, who are calling for a more expedited, error-free voting process following several flubs at polling stations across the nation.

Paper ballots will likely feature an oval that voters pencil in, Lashley said, or voters may be asked to indicate a candidate preference with other marks.

"It definitely should be simpler for older people," Lashley said.

About 22 eSlate voting machines will remain in precincts across the county. Those electronic machines require four-digit access codes and offer greater accessibility to voters with special needs.

More than $90,000 in federal grants will help convert the county's voting system, Lashley said.

Marvin Oder, a commissioner on the County Board of Elections, and who represents the Republican party, said those who feel disenfranchised by the old voting process will likely favor the new system.

"I'm in favor of it," Oder said. "I think this will bring out more people because it simplifies things and brings it away from technology."

Price Batts, an election commissioner representing the Democratic party, said while he prefers the outgoing machines, these updates are needed to comply with changing federal election guidelines.

"This evidently is a pretty good way for a paper trail," he said.

Despite its improved reliability, ethical oversight will still be needed for counties using the paper ballot system, according to Harp Enterprises, the Lexington firm conducting the conversion.

And although they likely don't agree on much else, Batts said both Democrats and Republicans represented by the election board are committed to a fair and honest election.

"I think both of us are impartial about that," he said. "We want it to come out truthfully."

Election officials will receive training on the new system before it's implemented in November, when many of the county's 10,684 eligible voters could head to the polls to cast ballots in local and national elections. According to figures updated Jan. 15, from the County Clerk's office, more than 60 percent - or 7,444 - of those voters are registered Democrat; 2,730 are registered Republican; and 510 are registered other.

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