10/12/06 — Officials set machines for Election Day

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Officials set machines for Election Day

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on October 12, 2006 1:57 PM

With May's primaries under their belts, election officials in both Wayne and Duplin counties have had their test runs with their new election equipment. Now, both say they are ready for November's elections.

Set for Nov. 7, the general election will mark only the second time the new machines will be put to the test by voters.

The first run, though, both election directors said, went well.

"We felt like the transition was fairly smooth actually," Duplin County Board of Elections Director Suzanne Southerland said.

Wayne County Director Gary Sims said his county is also predicting a trouble-free Election Day.

"The election officials seem like they've done well with them, and the voters, from what I've seen, they're adjusting very well," Sims said.

In Wayne County, the only difference for most voters is the filling in of bubbles rather than the connecting of arrows.

In Duplin County, the new ballots marked a change from the punchcards, which had been used for more than 20 years.

Both counties, as well as the other 98 in North Carolina, are using the same system - optically scanned bubble sheets.

"It's just something new," Sims said. "We went overboard in the primary election geting everybody trained, but everybody's getting adjusted to it."

The biggest changes, though, affect the area's visually impaired and handicapped voters.

"We had nothing in the county for people that were visually or physically impaired," Sims said.

Neither did Duplin County.

Now, both are using machines that, with the use of a special keypad and, if necessary, a stylus or puffer, allow almost anybody to vote unassisted.

That, Sims said, makes the transition to the new equipment worth the trouble.

"I'm not going to say I was happy to go over to new equipment, but it was the right thing to do. To work with, or speak to somebody who can now, for the first time, vote a secret ballot by themselves ... that's a wonderful thing," he said.

With less than a month to go before Election Day, all that's left to do is make sure everything is still working properly.

Both counties are in the process of testing their machines.

"We do everything we can to try and tear them up before the election gets here," Sims said. "Our biggest thing, though, is making sure we have backup plans in place."

Southerland is confident things will once again run smoothly -- even with an expected increase in use.

"You're going to see people vote in this election who didn't vote in the primary and you're going see that for the next two years until the presidential election," she said. "You're always going to have a learning curve, but we don't forsee any problems.

"We're currently doing our part to ensure nothing goes wrong."