Change has come to Cooke County, at least for anyone willing to give new election systems a chance.

Cooke County officials are implementing new digital voting machines which both leave a solid paper trail and greatly speed up the ballot counting process on election night. Cooke County Clerk Pam Harrison has been training election workers to set up and use the new ExpressVote ballot marking machines and ExpressPoll tablets as well as new ballot scanners to be used in early voting and at the county’s largest precincts this fall.

Rolling out new polling machines: Early voting begins Monday

We’re publishing a news story on the Oct. 19-20 front page explaining how the new systems work. Here, we’ll show why Harrison says she hopes voters will consider giving the systems a chance.

Simply put, the new systems will help voters avoid errors that could result in their votes not being counted.

One of the biggest headaches Harrison’s team faces each election night is deciding how to proceed with ballots whose markings are confusing or indicate too many options chosen in a given race.

Someone might have meant to erase a mistaken marking and fill in a new one in the choice underneath. Or did they mean to erase the lower mark and go with the top one?

Those are the kinds of decisions election officials must make in interpreting unclear ballots.

“We have hundreds of ballots to resolve,” we reported Harrison saying. It can take until the wee hours of the morning to get through them all, delaying local election results.

But more importantly, it can sometimes be difficult, if not downright impossible, to be certain of a voter’s intent if their ballot isn’t marked clearly.

Harrison told us she believes the ExpressVote machine will eliminate such confusion. You make your choices on its computer touchscreen or with a remote designed to assist vision-impaired voters. The machine will alert you if too many or too few choices are made in a race — called over-votes or under-votes — and give you a chance to go back and fix any mistakes.

Then a paper ballot is printed with human-readable text on it so you can triple-check your vote. That ballot can also be reinserted into the machine if you wish to verify once again that your votes were recorded correctly.

One more thing to note: The ExpressVote ballot marking machine just described doesn’t even count the ballot it produces. It only marks it appropriately so that ballot can be cast, and counted, using a different machine.

Harrison said that other machine — the one that actually counts ballots — has been through testing time and again under her supervision. “It’s been 100% accurate every time,” she said. And it’s been quick.

The touchscreen voting system, the do-over chances, the machine-readable paper trail — these are all safeguards meant to enhance the integrity of Cooke County’s elections, and we couldn’t be happier to see them implemented. We believe that retaining a paper trail while building digital guards against over- and under-votes, as well as allowing multiple chances to fix mistakes before a ballot is finally cast, will make it easier for voters to ensure that their voice is heard — and heard accurately — at the ballot box.

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