Brown: Big election change coming—but don’t get hopes up too high

SHARE Brown: Big election change coming—but don’t get hopes up too high

Willie Wesley Jr., business development manager for Election Systems &
Software, demonstrates the company’s voting equipment Tuesday at the
Union League Club. Photo by Mark Brown/Sun-Times

Follow @MarkBrownCSTThere’s no telling how much the political landscape will be transformed by the time President Donald Trump faces re-election in 2020, but there’s one change I can practically guarantee to Chicago and Cook County voters.

When they cast their ballots in the next presidential election, they will be doing so on new voting equipment.

Cook County Clerk David Orr and the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners last acquired new election machinery for the 2006 election, and they say it is time for an update.

As a first step in the procurement process, five of the nation’s leading voting equipment suppliers displayed their wares Tuesday in a second floor ballroom of the Union League Club.


Follow @MarkBrownCST“This is our version of the Auto Show. You can’t take anything for a test drive just yet, but you can slam the doors,” Chicago election board spokesman Jim Allen said as election judges and other invitees kicked the tires on an array of voting gadgetry.

This will be a major contract. The 2006 equipment changeover cost some $50 million total with the federal government picking up most of the cost in the wake of the fallout over the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore that exposed weaknesses in the old punch card voting systems.

Coupled with the current national angst over the integrity of the voting process (I think we got a fair vote), the search for a new election vendor is bound to draw considerable scrutiny.

No matter who provides the new equipment, I can predict a few changes from the voter’s perspective.

Voters using paper ballots will no longer draw a line to connect the two parts of the arrow pointing to the name of their preferred candidate. Instead, they will need to fill in an oval. Back to the future, right?

It’s no big deal, really, but as with any change, there will be an adjustment period.

You may recall that when the arrow system was implemented we were assured it was better for purposes of making clear the intent of the voter.

Well, they’ve changed their minds.

“Studies show ovals are better,” said David Moreno, director of product strategy with Dominion Voting, which bought the company that made the election equipment now in use here.

Another change is that even touch screen machines will produce a paper ballot that the voter can review before feeding it into a counting scanner. Under the current system, touch screens produce only a paper tape inside the machine that the voter can see but not touch, requiring no further step.

If every voter produces a paper ballot that can be hand-counted if necessary, there’s less reason to worry about Russian hackers.

I can confidently predict both of these changes because that’s how all the suppliers are doing it these days.

The changes may be more substantial on the back end of an election.

In a big improvement, election judges will no longer need to accumulate results from various pieces of voting equipment in the polling place before transmitting their count. That process produced many of the election night glitches of the past decade.

In addition, most new voting systems capture an electronic image of each ballot, which could greatly simplify the process of conducting recounts.

Neither Orr nor Allen wanted to predict how much it will cost the city and county to buy new equipment. Both mentioned the possibility of leasing equipment to avoid a large one-time outlay.

Orr said he wants to have a new system in place by 2020. Allen said the city sees the 2018 primary as the ideal time to make the switch, but conceded it might take longer.

Now if we can just get some better candidates.

Tweets by @MarkBrownCST

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