It might look like a big black trash can, but in actuality it’s a $5,700 machine to scan and tabulate paper ballots from 40-year-old voting machine manufacturer Election Systems & Software, Omaha, Neb.
A team of two ES&S regional sales representatives demonstrated the DS200 Precinct Scanner and Tabulator for two hours Tuesday morning to more than two dozen Ellis County citizens at the Ellis County Administrative Center, 718 Main.
Judy Channell, Hays, said she enjoyed the demo. Channell volunteers her time each election as a supervising judge at the Hays VFW post 9076 polling site.
“They answered all the questions we had, and it just seemed so simple and easy, after the other machines we had,” Channell said. “I just thought they did a great job. I loved the ease, and they’re so simple and I can’t see that many things that would go wrong.”
Ellis County currently has 69 voting machines serving its 10 polling sites. They are 12-year-old ES&S iVotronic touch-screen machines. A new Kansas law this year means Ellis County must replace its voting machines with an election method that allows a hand count of ballots, which the iVotronic can’t produce.
During an election, the DS200 scans the paper ballots, electronically reads and counts each vote, records them electronically, and holds them for delivery.
The way it works, each voter fills out a printed paper ballot and then inserts it into the tabulator like they’re sending a fax. The ballot disappears into the tabulator, where the machine reads each vote, then it falls into a plastic bin. At the close of Election Day, poll workers open up the base of the tabulator, remove the bin and lock it, then roll the bin full of ballots like a suitcase on its two wheels to deliver it to election headquarters. Election workers also unlock a compartment on the tabulator that houses a USB flash drive that stores all the votes electronically.
Channel said she thinks voters would find the machines easy to use.
“They’re so much easier, and there are less things to do on these than on the ones we’ve had in the past. I think they’d really like them,” she said. “The voter does pretty good and they’ve learned on these other machines, so this would be a breeze I think.”
Pat Windholz, Hays, a supervising judge at Smoky Hill Country Club polling site, liked what she saw Tuesday.
“This system looks very good, and people want paper ballots,” Windholz said. “This system looks like it works very well, lots of safeguards.”
Former Kansas Sen. Janis Lee, Hays, watched the demo and like many others asked a lot of questions of the two ES&S representatives. At the end of the demo, said she liked what she saw, given the paper ballot.
“If there’s a question you can go back, the county clerk can go back,” Lee said. “If you have a recount you have the paper trail. I think that’s very, very important.”
Lee actively followed the recent recount in Ellis County over the 111th District race, which saw now state Rep. Barb Wasinger defeat then-incumbent Rep. Eber Phelps by just over 30 votes.
“What’s most important is we have an election that the general public can trust the results,” Lee said. “That’s what I believe a county needs to look at. Not just ease for election workers, but trust from the public, understanding that these are the results of the election and we have a paper trail.”
Hays Mayor Henry Schwaller IV and Ellis County Commissioners Butch Schlyer and Dustin Roths, as well as staff from the County Clerk’s office, were also at the demo.
Roths said the county has money in its budget for replacing the old equipment and buying new. Each polling site would presumably have one tabulator-scanner, as well as one touch-screen voting machine costing about $3,700, which can be used by any voter, but which is also adapted for people with special needs, such as hearing assistance.
“We should have plenty of money set aside to buy these machines,” Roths said. Each scanner-tabulator can handle about 3,000 voters. In the Nov. 2018 General Election, Ellis County had more than 17,800 qualified voters.
“This is impressive,” Roths said. “We need a paper trail to make our voters feel confident and it seems to be the same way across the country, there’s just something reassuring about staring at what you voted and putting it in and knowing that paper trail is always there if there’s ever any issue with the technology.”
Ellis County Clerk Donna Maskus, the county’s chief election officer, said she was tickled with the turnout, as well as the multitude of questions from the people who came.
“I am very pleased with all the interest,” Maskus said. “We want to hear those questions and we want to deal with them because we want to look at where the taxpayer dollar is going”
She expects to schedule at least one more demo with a competing vendor. Her goal, she said is to have machines in place before any possible primary election in August.