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Return of the paper ballot

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By Cindy DiFazio

Staff writer/photographer

When Henry Countians cast their ballot in November, the results will be tabulated — and reported — much faster than in previous years.

Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson was in New Castle last week to demonstrate the new paper ballot voting machine Henry County voters will use for the first time this fall.

“We expect the numbers to come in quicker,” he said. “Kentucky can be one of the first to tell its story to the country.”

Henry County, which has 20 polling places, purchased one eScan machine for each location — a total of 20 — with $90,000 in grant funding from the 2002 Help America Vote Act. The federal government provided 95 percent of the money with the other five percent coming from the state.

Grayson said the money was left over from previous years.

“We asked the counties what they wanted to do with the extra money,” he said. “Many decided to buy new voting systems.”

Henry County Clerk Juanita Lashley said the old machines could only be upgraded once more, so she proposed the new machines to fiscal court.

“I told them if they waited, it would cost more,” she said. Henry County furnished approximately $5,000 more to purchase ballot bags and privacy booths.

Grayson said the new paper ballots are the same type as are used for mail-in absentee voting.

Voters will get the ballot from a poll worker and fill in the boxes next to their chosen candidates in either blue or black ink. Multiple voters can mark ballots at one time, reducing lines at the polls. There is a bar code and serial number on each ballot to orient the document scanner, called a reader. “You can put it in the reader any old way,” he said. “It will take the ballot in whatever direction.”

The reader tabulates the vote, takes a picture of the ballot and a smaller photo of the write-in section and drops it into a receptacle for safe-keeping. Because voters are human and mistakes may be made, voters are offered a second or even third chance to submit a correct ballot. According to a news relese from the Secretary of State, the eScan detects overvoted or blank ballots and rejects them, instantly providing the voter the opportunity to change or correct their ballot before it is cast or counted.

Grayson said there are a number of safeguards in place to ensure no “ballot buying.” Each precinct is given a pre-determined number of paper ballots each with its own identification numbers. Each ballot is photographed and retained, and even if the machine fails paper ballots can be saved to tabulate later. “No system is foolproof,” he said, “but this one is really good.”

Grayson praised Henry County for choosing the paper ballot system. He said some counties are reluctant to make the change. “Some just don’t want to change if they don’t have to,” he said. Grayson said some also prefer electronic voting. “People think paper is going backwards from electronic voting,” he said, “but to me this is the rational choice. I’m very confident on the whole it will work well.”

Lashley said more residents than usual turned up on the final day to register to vote in the upcoming election. “We had a lot of cards turned in,” she said. “There was a big turnout.”

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