So far, not too many voters have commented on the paper ballots Ellis County started using in late October for the city-county election now underway.
“I’ve had more say that they really do like it,” said County Clerk Donna Maskus on Friday morning as she discussed early voting so far, and Election Day 2019. “Now, there was a couple in this morning and I heard them say ‘We miss the touch screen.’ And that is the first comment I’ve heard with that.”
Maskus is rolling out new voting equipment for the current city-school election in the wake of a new Kansas state law that requires counties conduct a manual audit of the votes cast.
The county’s new equipment from Omaha-based Election Systems & Software replaces iVotronic voting machines that were more than a decade old and that used an electronic touch screen.
While the new ballot system is old-fashioned paper marked with a simple black pen, the tabulation process itself is high-tech.
Each voter feeds their completed ballot into a digital scanner, the DS200, which tabulates every vote and automatically tallies the totals for each race and each question on the ballot, Maskus said.
To mark the ballot, voters color in an oval by a candidate’s name. Maskus wants to make sure people do that part right.
“It’s very important that the voter takes the responsibility of shading that oval in,” Maskus said. “For the scanner to pick it up, it has to be colored in. I really want to stress that, so it picks up the intent of the voter.”
The county’s old ES&S Model 650 high-speed optical scanner did a better job of that, she said.
“This one is a little more touchier, and that is one thing the vendor tells us, and other counties using this equipment, so we have to make sure voters color that in,” she said.
Early voting has been underway since Monday, Oct. 21 at the Ellis County Clerk’s Office in the Ellis County Administrative Center, 718 Main. It runs from 8 a.m. through noon Monday, when it closes in advance of Election Day on Tuesday.
All that’s required of a voter is their official photo ID.
Voting Tuesday is from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Of the county’s 17,886 eligible voters, 7,835 are registered to vote, Maskus said. People must vote at their assigned precinct location. There are nine voting locations in Ellis County. Anyone can look up their polling place through the link at ellisco.net/425/Election, or by calling the Ellis County Clerk’s Office at 785-628-9410.
In this election, voters are electing city and school board representatives, although the ballot also includes a Census question related to changing the Kansas constitution.
For that question, on the back of the ballot, a vote against the change means the Kansas Secretary of State will continue to readjust the U.S. Census for local and state redistricting. That involves the Secretary of State contacting every college student and military person to ask them where they want to declare their permanent residence. For Ellis County, home to Fort Hays State University and North Central Kansas Technical College, the adjustment historically decreases the county’s population, according to the web site ballotpedia.org.
Also on the ballot is the election of the Cottonwood Extension District Executive Board. The district, which combined Ellis and Barton counties, began operating in 2017 and the executive board is made up of members of both counties.
“This is the first time that the public will get to vote on those members,” Maskus said. “Before they were appointed by county commissioners.”
Anyone who needs help on Election Day can get help from election board workers at each polling place, or bring someone to help them.
Each polling place is equipped with an ADA compliant touch screen device, which also, for example, can be used with earphones to hear the ballot read, if necessary.
Vendor representatives will be in the county on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to stand by if there are questions about the new equipment, Maskus said. Ellis County Public Works employees will deliver the scanner-tabulators in a U-Haul to polling places on Monday.
At the polling places, voters can mark their ballots either sitting down or standing up. Whatever the choice, the booths have privacy screens to keep the ballot confidential.
After voting, each voter feeds their ballot into the DS200. At day’s end on Tuesday, runners will retrieve the election reporting device from each DS200 scanner in Hays and hand-deliver it to the Clerk’s Office, Maskus said.
For the audit, Maskus appointed a three-member board to meet Friday, Nov. 8. Pulling offices and precinct numbers from a hat where there were at least 20 votes cast, Maskus will provide ballots for the audit board to count. Those numbers will be compared to the tallies on the tabulating machines.
“We’ll get the ballots for that office and precinct and look at each paper ballot and tally them to make sure the machine is tabulating correctly,” Maskus said. “They have to match with the audit.”
The election canvass, making the results official, is Nov. 14.