RACINE COUNTY — The April 4 election may have been the last for aging voting equipment at Racine County polling places, as a big technological upgrade is on the way.
The Racine County Board last week moved forward on a long-planned purchase of new vote-counting machines, into which residents submit their completed ballots. County officials anticipate the machines should make for an earlier election night for those waiting on results.
“We should have results much more quickly than we’ve had,” County Clerk Wendy Christensen said.
In past elections, poll workers relayed results to their respective municipalities, which tallied totals and submitted them to the county. The new system cuts out that middle step as well as any manual counting, with results transmitted wirelessly from the polling place to the courthouse.
Poll workers and election officials will be trained before the election, though Christensen believes it will be an easy transition.
“There are parts of it that are very similar to the processes that we’ve been using before,” she said. “It’s just newer technology.”
Other changes coming
Voters will see some changes as a result of the new machines.
The ballots will look slightly different — residents will fill in circles next to a candidate’s name instead of drawing lines.
The new equipment also means the end of touch-screen voting in Racine County. Every voter will use a paper ballot to feed into the new machines.
The touch screens were originally put in place to comply with part of a 2002 federal law aimed at helping people with disabilities fill out a ballot independently. With the new machines, anyone who has difficulty filling out a ballot on their own can use a special ballot-marking device, Christensen said.
The County Board has approved a resolution to spend $175,120 on two voting machines, software, hardware implementation and computers. Governing bodies in each of the county’s 17 municipalities must also approve agreements related to the new machines, which have been long expected and in many cases already budgeted.
Municipalities will spend about $9,500 per machine, meaning costs vary depending on how many polling places a community has.
The goal is to have the machines in place for the February 2018 primaries, Christensen said.
Whether they will be used in a special election for Racine mayor is uncertain. It partially depends on the timing of the election — a date has not been set for a primary or general election to succeed Mayor John Dickert, who plans to resign this summer.
“We have some options depending on where we are in the process of getting this new (equipment) and when the city would have a special election,” Christensen said.