Chicago gets new ‘giant iPad’-style electronic voting machines

New machines and practices were rolled out this week as early voting begins.

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Chicago Election Board Spokesman Jim Allen uses a demonstration ballot to show off new touch screen voting machines at a Loop Super Site at 191 N. Clark. St.

Chicago Election Board Spokesman Jim Allen uses a demonstration ballot to show off new touch screen voting machines at a Loop Super Site at 191 N. Clark. St.

Rich Hein/Sun-Times

New electronic voting machines were rolled out in Chicago this week — just in time for early voting for next month’s primary elections.

The machines are touch-screen, like a “giant iPad” and capture an electronic scan of the voter’s ballot before printing, according to Jim Allen, Chicago Board of Election spokesman.

“Even if those paper ballots were to be damaged, lost, destroyed or tampered with, you’d not only have the paper, but also the scanned images of all the ballots cast,” Allen said of the technological capabilities of the machines.

There will be roughly 4500 new electronic machines in city-based precincts on March 17. Early voters started using the machines Wednesday at the Loop Super Site, at 191 N. Clark St. And when early voting expands to the rest of the precincts, the machines will be available at those locations as well.

In addition to hiring cybersecurity expert and working closely with the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, the $22 million upgrade is another effort by the election board to improve security since Russian hackers tapped Illinois’ voter registration system in 2016.

Chicago hasn’t had new electronic machines since 2005.

The new electronic machines were used in Cook County suburbs during the 2019 elections in April and the rest of the county outside the city has signed a $31 million contract with Dominion Voting Systems for their new equipment, according to James Scalzitti, a spokesman for the Cook County Clerk’s office.

“The old machines were on the brink of serious breakdown,” Scalzitti said. “They were over a decade old, and we were essentially cannibalizing other out-of-use machines to repair the ones we had in circulation.”

New touch screen voting machines were recently installed at a Loop Super Site at 191 N. Clark. St.

New touch screen voting machines were recently installed at a Loop Super Site at 191 N. Clark. St.

Rich Hein/Sun-Times

The city’s electronic machines went through a three-year testing process: They were first tested by an independent lab as a part of the federal certification process, then tested and certified by the Illinois State Board of Elections, according to Allen. The elections board, in December, then ran a mock election using a similar database to the primaries.

League of Women Voters Chicago volunteers will go to city polling places on Election Day to ask election judges questions about the equipment in order to pinpoint if there is any need for improvement.

“So far, I haven’t heard anything that would predict snags,” LWV Chicago President Anne Jamieson said. “The board of elections has done trainings for election judges that have hopefully been useful and thorough. Our survey is hoping to discover if there were anything missed in those trainings so that future trainings are more complete.”

Chicago Election Board Spokesman Jim Allen uses a demonstration ballot to show off new touch screen voting machines at a Loop Super Site at 191 N. Clark. St.

Chicago Election Board Spokesman Jim Allen uses a demonstration ballot to show off new touch screen voting machines at a Loop Super Site at 191 N. Clark. St.

Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Voters still have the option to cast paper ballots, but now they will be expected to fill out ovals instead of connecting arrows.

The change makes it easier for voting equipment to calculate whether a mark or smudge counts as a vote, based on the oval’s target area, officials said.

It’ll also remind many voters of their younger days.

“It’s reminiscent for a lot of people who have dealt with standardized tests,” Allen said. “Filling in an oval is a pretty straightforward method for voters who have gone to school since the 1970s.”

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