York County Supervisors Agree to Purchase New Voting Machines

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The new ballot scanner includes a touch screen that will alert the voter if the ballot has properly filled in. (Courtesy Election Systems & Software)
The new ballot scanner includes a touch screen that will alert the voter if the ballot has properly filled in. (Courtesy Election Systems & Software)

This November, York County citizens will be using a new $232,000 voting system to cast their votes in the general election.

The York County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to purchase new voting machines and software that will replace the county’s current aging voting software, called AccuVote, and its companion, the WINVote machine used by voters with disabilities.

York County Electoral Board Chairman Phillip Wolf said in the eight years he has been on the electoral board, he has never had any problems with the current system, but explained it had exceeded its life span.

“We’ve known this was coming,” he said at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, explaining the current system was approaching 20 years old.

In addition, the General Assembly voted April 14 to decertify WINVote machines completely after a report from the Virginia Information Technologies Agency deemed the system had “security deficiencies” in multiple areas.

In its report, VITA said a hacker could easily modify the recorded votes due to its insecure encryption protocols, weak passwords and unstable software.

The new system, called a DS200 optical scanner and manufactured by Election Systems and Software, will work much like the old system. Citizens will receive a paper ballot and will retreat to the private voting booth, where they will cast their votes by darkening the circles next to candidates’ names.

Voters will then insert their paper ballots into the scanner, and if the ballot has been filled in and inserted correctly, a message will appear on the screen telling the person the vote has been successfully cast.

The companion ExpressVote Machine allows voters with disabilities to cast their ballots using a specialized touch screen. People with vision impairments, hearing issues or physical disabilities can use this machine, which has a larger font, an optional audio format and supports multiple languages while also removing any chance of unclear marks. The vote is recorded digitally, and a paper copy is printed for the voter to deposit directly into the scanner.

York County Electoral Board Chairman Phillip Wolf explains to the Board of Supervisors the current voting system needs to be replaced. (Marie Albiges/WYDaily)
York County Electoral Board Chairman Phillip Wolf explains to the Board of Supervisors the current voting system needs to be replaced. (Marie Albiges/WYDaily)

About 10 years ago, the York County Electoral Board began putting aside $20,000 a year in case the county’s current system failed or if the state called for localities to acquire new voting systems.

Wolf said that fund will entirely cover the expenses for the new system, which is slated to be ready by the November general election.

Since James City County does not have a primary this year, York County will be borrowing its neighbors machine for their June 9 Primary.

Wolf said the county wanted to purchase the new voting system earlier in the year but were waiting on the General Assembly to vote on Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s proposal that called for all voting machines  in the state to be replaced.

At the end of its 2015 session, the General Assembly did not approve the $28 million plan.

In 2007, the Virginia General Assembly banned local governments from use digital-only touch-screen machines because they did not leave a paper trail. However the state did not provide any funds for replacing localities’ systems or give a deadline for replacing the equipment.

York County’s touchscreen WINVote machine, used by voters with disabilities, was included in the ban.

Wolf said it takes about an hour to an hour and half to train the employees on how to use the new machines and teach citizens how to use them.

“We really have to know all the ins and outs [of the machine],” he said.

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