Voters in Laurel's Nov. 1 city elections have more ways to cast their ballots, and the city has adopted new voting machines that will make counting the different ballots quicker and easier.
Kimberley Rau, clerk to the Laurel Board of Election Supervisors, said the new ELECTronic 1242 voting machines were adopted by Hyattsville with such success that Bowie, Greenbelt and now Laurel have followed suit. The big advantage with the new machines, Rau said, is that they have an optical scanner so paper ballots, which include absentee, provisional and early voting ballots, can be fed into the machine to be scanned and counted.
With the city looking to increase the number of absentee voters, and early voting dates added to the calendar, Rau said these machines will make counting ballots "easier, quicker and more efficient."
The increase is expected because now Laurel voters can request absentee ballots without providing any justification, and requests can be made online.
"Voters need no reason to vote absentee, they can do it for whatever reason," said Rau. "We are promoting them and hope we have more absentee ballots and more early voting."
Rau said the Board of Elections received 66 absentee ballots in the 2009 referendum voting. Six absentee ballots were received in the 2008 city elections, and 17 absentee ballots were cast in the 2006 election, when the incumbent city council candidates all ran in contested races. So far for the Nov. 1 election, Rau said they have had more than 35 requests for absentee ballots.
The new voting machines have touch screens similar to the machines used in the last election, with the entire ballot coming up on one screen so the voter doesn't have to scroll down to see all the candidates. One change from the old machines is how write-in votes are done; with the new machine, Rau said, voters actually write the name in the ballot with a pen, rather than typing the name on a keyboard.
Rau described the machines as being "self-contained," saying they open up and stand on legs, and voters get some privacy by a curtain that is attached to the machines.
Voters can get an early look at the new machines when members of the Board of Election Supervisors hold a public demonstration Thursday, Oct. 20 from 3-6 p.m. in the Council chambers at the Laurel Municipal Center, 8103 Sandy Spring Road.
The deadline to apply for absentee ballots is Tuesday, Oct. 25. Ballot requests can be made at the city's Web site laurel.md.us, or by calling 301-725-5300, Ext. 2120. Absentee ballots must be returned by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 2.
Early voting will be offered at the Laurel Municipal Center on three days: Thursday and Friday, Oct. 27 and 28, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, Oct. 29, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Polls are open on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 1, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. This year, there are polling locations in each city ward. Ward 1 residents vote at the Laurel Municipal Center and Ward 2 residents vote at the Robert J. DiPietro Community Center, 7901 Cypress St.