Election board on track to bring vote centers to county

BROWNSTOWN

A recent public meeting to allow the Jackson County Election Board to receive input from the community on whether vote centers should be put in place for future county elections drew more than two dozen people.

At the ended of that meeting at the courthouse, the board voted to take resolutions to the county council and commissioners allowing Jackson County to be recognized as a vote center county. 

This resolution does not mean vote centers would immediately be integrated into the county’s election process, but that the county is open to having them.

"What we’re deciding and what the vote of the election board would be is whether we want to start the process of looking into vote centers to see if this is something that Jackson County would do and come up with a plan for that," election board member Melissa Acton said during the meeting Friday evening.

Representatives from VR Systems and RBM Consulting, which provide electronic poll books and voting machines for the county, respectively, gave presentations on how their equipment works.

The election board was receptive to a suggestion from a member of the public to have voting equipment available at the Jackson County Fair so people can acclimate themselves to the technology.

An important subject among the questions asked from the public was if paper ballots were going away completely if vote centers came to Jackson County.

County Clerk Melissa Hayes, who also is a member of the election board, said only "a very limited amount" of paper ballots would be provided in an election with vote centers.

A problem that came up with having paper ballots alongside vote centers was how a unique paper ballot would have to be available at all 30 of Jackson County’s precincts due to elections specific to precincts.

In the 2020 presidential election, there were 20 polling sites for 30 precincts in Jackson County. 

Another question from a member of the public was if electronic poll books would be able to print paper ballots if needed. 

Rob Resuali from VR Systems said the company’s equipment can print ballots, but the state has not certified electronic poll books to be able to print ballots in elections. 

An electronic poll book is a piece of equipment used by election officials to review and maintain voter registration data.

Montgomery County Clerk Karyn Douglas called into the meeting to talk about her experience with having vote centers in that county. 

She said even though significantly less paper ballots would be used in a county with vote centers, there still will be paper trails to verify votes going forward.

"With the way that the legislature is moving, by law in 2019, every county is going to have to go to paper backup," she said.

A voter-verifiable paper audit trail, or VVPAT, is used on voting machines to provide a verifiable paper trail to ensure votes are counted.

Douglas spoke positively about vote centers and said all you have to do to be able to vote on a voting machine is to be able to put your finger, or stylus, on the screen.

"You need to look at the election voting machines as just a machine that creates the ballot for you," she said.

Election board member Julie Rohlfing said even though vote centers coming to Jackson County is a big change for a lot of people, the county has a moment to solidify a new election process in case of a state mandate.

"In a few years, the state is probably going to go with this method anyway," she said. "This gives us the opportunity, if we go down this path, to give us the opportunity to make sure we’re able to put a plan in place that’s best for Jackson County and best for Jackson County’s residents."