PAOLA — Voters can take one of the county’s new election machines for a test drive of sorts at the County Clerk’s Office.

County Clerk Janet White, who is also the county’s election officer, said a “my favorite things” election has been created to use as a practice ballot, the results of which will not be tabulated. The practice ballot includes fun questions like “what is your favorite dog breed or your favorite U.S. beach?”

The machine will be available from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at the County Clerk’s Office, which is located in Suite 102 of the Administration Building at 201 S. Pearl St. in Paola.

“‘My favorite things’ allows everybody to have an opportunity to actually do some voting on the new machine to see how it’s going to work,” White said. “It’s available anytime our office is open. If somebody is standing in line at motor vehicle and wants to pop in, we would be happy to let them try it out.”

White said an office staff member will be available to explain how the new machine works, assist the voter and answer questions.

“It’s actually going to be very similar to what we already have,” White said. “However, our previous equipment did not have the verified paper audit trail (VPAT). A sheet of paper is going to be generated that shows what you selected.”

VPAT is available on all the machines, White said.

“Verified paper audit trail is going to be for those individuals who actually want to physically see on a piece of paper their selections, but it is not a personal receipt for the voter. It will need to be put back into the (machine) so that the ballet is cast. If they don’t do that they have not cast a ballot.”

VPAT serves as a second verification for the voter, but voters do not have to choose that option if they are comfortable with on-screen verification like the old machines had, White said. With on-screen verification, the piece of paper will still be created but it will go directly into the ballot can on the machine.

White said the new machines will not allow a person to over-vote — such as selecting two candidates for a mayor’s race.

“You can under-vote or not vote any race at any point, and it will alert you that you have done that as well,” she said. “If you want to do that you are perfectly within your right and you can just proceed on and cast your ballot, but it won’t allow you to over-vote.”

It also has safeguards to prevent a voter from receiving the wrong ballot, White said.

“These (machines) are tied into the poll books, so when the poll book actually prints the ticket — if you are properly registered — there’s going to be a bar code printed at the bottom that you are going to scan on the machine, and your ballot style is going to pop up. So it’s going to eliminate people getting the wrong ballot style,” White said. “It’s going to be more important for the voter to be responsible and make sure their voter registration record is updated and that it’s proper.”

The new machines require two steps that voters did not encounter with the old machines.

“You’re going to be handed a blank sheet of paper, and that’s got to go in the machine and that’s what will activate the session,” White said. “And then you are going to scan your bar code or a worker will.

“I am anticipating that we’ll have more workers there just so when a voter has checked in there will be someone who can escort them to a machine to get them started so that they know what to do,” White said. “I hope the voter becomes more independent and is able to do those two steps themselves, and not have to have somebody there. I think sometimes voters are intimidated even by poll workers who really are basically there to assist them, but some (voters) feel funny about it. We always want to be respectful of the voter. The very, very core of everything we do is to protect the privacy of that voter.”

County commissioners in May approved the purchase of 125 ExpressVote Tabulators for $685,220 from Election Systems & Software, based in Omaha, Neb.

County Administrator Shane Krull said the county’s voting machines were 13 years old and approaching obsolescence.

“The equipment is dated to the point where it isn’t supported, and parts don’t exist unless you go on eBay,” Krull said in May.

The county had been setting aside funds in anticipation of purchasing new election equipment so financing was not necessary, county officials said.

“I’m tickled the commissioners chose to go with a system very similar to what we already had to transition us into what we are going to be using now for the next 10 to 15 years,” White said.

She is hopeful voters will like the hybrid system.

“It still has all the advantages that electronic brings, but for voters who are paper-ballot-only people or have a fear of the electronic, I hope the verified paper audit trail appeases their concerns and that they will like it as well.”

News Editor Doug Carder can be reached at (913) 294-2311 or doug.carder@miconews.com.

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