Mecklenburg Commissioners voted 8-1 Tuesday night to buy new electronic voting equipment that it will be in place for the March 3 primary.
The county is buying new machines to comply with a North Carolina law that requires paper ballots to improve election security.
Many North Carolina counties are switching to paper ballots in which voters will use a pencil to fill in ovals next to their choices.
Elections experts have said that such an all-paper system would provide more security. But Mecklenburg Elections director Michael Dickerson said the elections board believes that will lead to problems.
“If you are filling in an oval, and you partly fill in the oval, will it count? Will it not count?” Dickerson said. “What if you fill in two ovals and circle one meaning that’s the one you want? That’s what the board did not want to do. They did not want to have to be responsible for interpreting votes for the voters.”
So, the county is going with a hybrid system.
Voters will inset a paper card into new touchscreen ExpressVote Ballot Marker machines. After they make their choices on a screen, the machine returns the card, allowing the voter to check who they voted for.
If everything is OK, they insert the card into a ballot tabulator, which counts their votes. If something goes wrong during the count, the paper ballots can be counted again.
Dickerson said the machines can’t be hacked and will provide an accurate count.
“I have to program all equipment, I have to test every piece of equipment that I send out,” Dickerson said. “I’m not just hoping it works. I know it’s going to work on election night. I know when those votes come in – real late, I know – I know it’s going to give me a true and accurate count.”
The county is buying 2,400 of the ballot-marker machines and 350 ballot counters. Dickerson said he expects the county will spend about $9 million on the machines, but he doesn’t know the final price because Mecklenburg will piggyback on a state contract with Elections Systems and Software.
The county has already tested the machines. Voters at one precinct in Steele Creek used the machines in the November election.
Commissioner Elaine Powell voted against buying the new machines.