2016-09-08 / Election News


New Voting Machines in Place
By Tom Walsh

They may look like “trash cans,” but new voting machines to be used for the first time in Newport and the rest of Rhode Island for the Tuesday, Sept. 13, primary elections will represent a giant leap forward for voters and elections officials.

“They are very easy to operate,” said Madeleine Pencak, Newport’s interim canvassing clerk. She said the new machines are wireless and include an antenna that enables poll workers to quickly move election night results to where they need to go.

“They will download the results right to the Board of Elections,” Pencak said. “There will be no waiting. It will save a lot of time.”

Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea announced last July that the state bought 590 new voting machines from a Nebraska based company to replace the old machines that have been used since 1997.

“By updating our voting equipment, we are updating democracy’s infrastructure,” Gorbea said in July.

Local General Assembly primary contests this year pit two Republican hopefuls, Richard Rom of Tiverton and Amy E. Veri of Little Compton, in state Senate District 12, which includes all of Middletown and Little Compton and portions of Newport and Tiverton. The winner will face veteran Democratic Sen. Louis P. DiPalma at the general election on Nov. 8.

Former state Rep. Linda D. Finn of Middletown and James J. Cawley of Portsmouth are vying for the Democratic nod in the House District 72 primary, with the victor going up against Republican Kenneth Mendonca in November. Incumbent Daniel P. Reilly is not seeking re-election.

In the First Congressional District, Democratic incumbent David N. Cicilline has a primary challenge from Christopher Young. The winner meets Republican Russell Taub on Nov. 8.

Newport and Middletown canvassing officials said they expect low voter turnouts on primary day.

As for the new voting machines, Newport’s Pencak said she was not kidding when she described what they look like.

“It’s on wheels and it looks exactly like a trash can, like the ones we see in the city that are put out on the side of the road where trash would be picked up,” she said.

Unlike the old machines that for many years required voters to use a special pen to connect the back end of an arrow to the front end, the new machines will have voters filling in a small circle for the candidate or ballot question they favor.

“They have come a long way,” Pencak added.

City canvassers decided against employing another election-day upgrade that some other states have adopted – electronic poll books or, as they are called, “e-poll books.” They are typically a tablet instrument on a stand. These replace the old-fashioned paper poll books that contain voter information and serve as vital tools on Election Day for determining whether someone is actually eligible to vote.

“We opted out on those for this year,” Pencak said. “But if all goes well, that’s the route we will be going for 2018.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, e-poll books also enable poll workers to look up voters from an entire country or state, thereby saving time; help workers to easily redirect voters in the wrong location to their proper voting place; produce turnout numbers and lists of who voted; and use a photo to verify a voter’s identity.

Newport canvassers say that as of now they expect to have about 60 poll workers for the city’s eight polling places. Eighteen of them are newcomers to Election Day polling place rigors. Canvassers said they could use more workers.

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