Voters participating in Tuesday’s primary election will insert their voted ballot cards directly into a ballot counter that will scan them for possible errors, Cook County Clerk David Orr said today.
These new voting procedures will affect voters only after they have made their selections in the voting booth. Voters will still cast ballots using punch cards.
"Error-detection technology will give voters the ability to cast an error-free ballot with confidence knowing that their votes will count on Election Day," Orr said. "These safeguards will ensure a more accurate vote count by guarding against unintended mistakes."
Other improvements in the primary election designed to minimize ballot errors and reduce voter confusion include: a less crowded ballot layout; redesigned polling place signs; improved training of election judges; and a new voter education drive.
Voter Ballot Insertion
In past elections, voters handed their ballots to an election judge who dropped them into a ballot box. On Tuesday, voters themselves will insert their completed ballots into the ballot counting machine equipped with the error-detection technology much like feeding a dollar bill into a vending machine, Orr said.
"This protects the secrecy of the ballot and voter privacy by reducing the handling of the ballot card," said Orr, who stressed that Tuesday marks the first election this procedure will take effect.
Last summer a court made permanent an order that the Cook County Clerk’s office could activate the error-detection technology in future elections. During local elections conducted on April 3, 2001 all suburban precincts featured equipment that alerted voters to errors and gave them a "second chance" to fix mistakes. As a result, the number of ballot errors dropped significantly.
After voting, the voter inserts the ballot card into the ballot counter. The machine will instantly scan it for unrecorded votes (undervotes and overvotes). If an undervote or overvote is detected, the card will partially kick out.
The voter will then have the option of correcting or making changes to the ballot or having the ballot count "as is."
The error-detection technology will not detect undervotes in uncontested races. The ballot counter will reject a ballot card if it detects: an undervote (if a voter skips a race or attempts to vote but fails to completely dislodge the chad); an overvote (if a voter selects too many candidates in a race); or if it does not detect an election judge’s initials.
If an undervote occurs, the message display on the ballot counter will read "YOU UNDERVOTED, OK OR REVOTE?" It will not indicate in what race the undervote occurred.
"The voter can return to the voting booth to check the ballot or decide to override the alert without anyone knowing which races were skipped," said Orr, adding that voters are not obligated to vote every race.
If the voter wants to make changes, he or she will return to the voting booth. If not, the election judge will press an "override" button to accept the ballot "as is" and the ballot is automatically fed back inside the ballot counter and securely stored.
If the voter wants the ballot – containing an undervote or overvote – counted "as is," no votes will count in the race(s) where the undervote or overvote was committed, but the rest of the votes in other races will count.
If an overvote occurs, the message display on the ballot counter will read "YOU OVERVOTED, OK OR REVOTE?" A printout tape will indicate in what race the overvote occurred. Overvotes occur when a voter selects too many candidates in a certain race.
If the voter wants to make changes, a judge will spoil or invalidate the ballot and issue the voter a new one. The voter will then return to the voting booth to make selections.
If the ballot counter does not detect a judge’s initials – a requirement for the ballot to count – the message display on the ballot counter will read "BALLOT NOT INITIALED, SEE ELECTION JUDGE." A judge will check to see if the ballot was initialed correctly.
Improved Ballot Design
Making the ballot easier to read will reduce voter confusion and help to limit errors. A new layout and design of the ballot book makes it less cluttered. The Clerk’s office also promoted a bill, signed into law last summer that will make the retention portion of the ballot less crowded in the November general election.
New Polling Place Signs
New user-friendly instructional and informational signs will be posted in every polling place, including a new Voters’ Bill of Rights sign. The 10-point "election protection" poster is aimed at familiarizing voters with their legal and constitutional rights.
Improved Judge Training
The more than 12,500 election judges who make sure elections in suburban Cook County run smoothly and fairly must have the knowledge and resources to assist voters, particularly when showing them how to properly use the voting equipment and explaining polling place procedures. New hands-on training and smaller training classes, combined with an overhauled election judge manual better equips judges with the tools needed to anticipate problems and pro-actively provide solutions.
Voter Education Drive
The Clerk’s office launched a voter education drive last December that emphasizes proper voting technique, highlights the new voting procedures and error-detection technology and promotes voter rights. Dozens of voting, business, religious, community and civic organizations have joined the effort, which includes mailing and distributing how-to-vote brochures to voters.