Changes at the Polls

By: Michael Hyland Email
By: Michael Hyland Email

Voters go to the polls Tuesday to determine which Democrats will run for a variety of offices.

Even though turnout isn't expected to be high, local election officials are using Tuesday to test some changes to the voting experience.

Some things are new for elections in Harrisonburg, including Jenny Brown. Thanks to a surge in voter registrations last year, the city had to add Brown as an assistant registrar.

She's going around the city with other poll workers Monday to prepare for Tuesday's primary. She's coordinating the city's attempt to use electronic poll books during elections.

Brown says she hopes the electronic system will "eliminate the time it takes, the frustration of looking at a paper poll book. You have to have a ruler. And, this makes it nice and easy. It's color-coded for you."

John Simmers, chair of Harrisonburg's Board of Elections, says he doesn't expect turnout to be high Tuesday. He says it's a dry run for November.

"In terms of the equipment, it is. In terms of some of the candidates, it probably is also," says Simmers.

The electronic system marks your name in red if you already voted. It also helps poll workers figure out where you need to go if you show up at the wrong polling place. That could happen since some voters were recently shuffled around to make the total voters at each site more even.

"You cannot check somebody else out of your precinct on this. If they're on your books, where they're supposed to be in that precinct, they're able to get checked in. If not, they're going to have to tell them which precinct to go to," says Brown.

"And so, this will be the chance for [the poll workers] to experience it with a little bit of pressure, but not the pressure of a general election," says Simmers.

The registrar's office has been getting calls from some voters concerned about security of information on the electronic poll books. Election officials explain some of the steps they've taken to keep voting information secure. For one, they point out no social security numbers are available on the computer system.

"All the wireless has been disabled. And it at any time will not be hooked on the Internet, hooked up to a phone line. Even the data, once it is on the thumb drive that we use, you have to take it back to the office. It's password-protected, as well as it's protected by a firewall on our local network," says Brown.

Historically, turnout has been low for these primaries. In 2005 and 2006, less than four percent of voters cast a ballot in the state-wide primaries. Election officials are hoping Tuesday will bring a relaxed atmosphere to test out the new features.

Polling places open Tuesday at 6 a.m. The voters registrar's office says the most important thing to remember is a form of identification.

You have to be registered to vote 29 days prior to the election, but if you aren't registered for the primary, there is still time before the general election.


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