NEW LEXINGTON — Voting is taken very seriously in Southeastern Ohio as many local residents work to exercise their constitutional duties. For the past decade, the Perry County Board of Elections have made steady improvements in facility and security to ensure all voting is done effectively and efficiently.
Technology takes the biggest spotlight when it comes to improvements with the Board of Elections. In October of 2019, The Perry County Tribune reported on funding given by the state to the local board for the purchase of new voting machines.
The Perry County Board of Elections was using old and outdated voting equipment which was in place for the past 15 years. With funding around $510,000, the board was able to obtain 140 new voting machines as well as poll books.
“We have advanced more in terms of technology,” Director Jamie Snider stated. “We have gone from paper poll books to E poll books.”
Around 2015 was when technology became more advanced for the Board of Elections. Larger and more populated counties were the first to receive new equipment leaving small counties to follow suit. Using the state funding, new machines became a top priority as the state continues to update local boards of election.
“The state provided grant funding to help move us all toward that in 2015,” Snider said.
Training needed to be done since the equipment was fresh coming into the county. Snider commented that the process of transitioning was not very hard to do since the new tech made their jobs and duties much easier.
“It’s actually making things for us much easier,” Snider explained. “Because rather than having to print, it's all done on basically an Ipad.”
The new voting equipment offers users the chance to cast their ballots via a touch screen, Ipad-esque, system. Information gets compiled in a central location and is able to be uploaded simply. Before, workers would take time slowly scanning paper pages of votes cast by residents. Results can be uploaded in a couple of days now, according to Snider.
“For us, it made it a lot easier,” Snider said.
Technology has made the voting process more accurate for the board. With the E poll books, reliance on the voter being careful when writing has become a thing of the past. Sometimes, when making marks on the paper ballot, locals sometimes did not pay attention making marks out of the box prompting the board to make a guesstimate.
“If you put a check mark through, and it went through two or three boxes we would have to make a decision on what box they were meaning to check,” Snider explained. “New technology makes it more accurate, I think.”
Older generations of Perry County residents seemed to distance themselves when new technology was placed in front of them. According to Snider, more elders are choosing to vote on the machines rather than asking for a paper ballot.
Deputy Director Dee Keister-Smith also acknowledged good events that have happened to the Board of Elections. In 2017, the original location was in the Perry County Board of Commissioners building located along West Brown Street.
In the face of a security risk, the Board opted to move locations, according to Keister-Smith. Now, the Perry County Board of Elections can be found along South Jackson Street.
Along with the move, more technology changes were placed on the Board. Now, the new facility gives the local entity the ability to operate on its own internet security separating itself from the other public agencies and facilities. Both the physical and internet security proved to be the best option for the Board as nowadays, security is everything.
“All we had to do was paint and put some carpet down,” Keister-Smith stated.
The clean look of the facility makes security seem like a simple task. Towards the back of the facility, safely double locked, voting machines are kept to make sure no physical damage occurs to them. It is required that both political party representatives need to be present in order to lock and unlock the back room as well as the room where results are held.
When being used, the touch screen machines do not have the capability of being hacked through internet access routes. Both the director and deputy director stated that in order to successfully hack one of the machines, they would need to physically take apart the machine. Even then, that process takes a few minutes during that time one of the poll workers would take notice if something was wrong.
Elections are hard to manage when there are people coming out of the woodwork to vote. More attention is placed on the Board when a presidential election is taking place. In 2016, the last presidential election was the most popular event for the Board as 15,337 out of 21,590 voters turned out for the election.
“That was the biggest one we had,” Snider commented.
Presidential and other important elections test the capabilities of the Perry county Board of Elections. Snider and Keister-Smith both agree that the Board is able to withstand the demand and crowds coming to vote.
With a new vision for 2020, things have not gone as planned for the Board. With the recent pandemic of COVID-19 (coronavirus), Ohio Governor Mike DeWine stated in one of his several press conferences that the election would be postponed until early June.
Election day was set for Tuesday, March 17, and workers for several boards of election received instructions from Secretary of State Frank LaRose for further instruction on what to do next.
For the next decade, more technology improvements are expected to take place. From LaRose, security is everything. He visited the local Board late last year when he took time visiting all 88 boards in the state. In those visits, he emphasized the need for more security when it comes to elections and its results.
“I think the whole realm of technology is moving that way,” Keister-Smith said.