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Harford residents will get new voting system for 2016 election

Dale Livingston, deputy director of the Harford County Board of Elections, shows a new ExpressVotes machine that will be used during early voting.
Dale Livingston, deputy director of the Harford County Board of Elections, shows a new ExpressVotes machine that will be used during early voting. (BRYNA ZUMER | AEGIS STAFF)

For voters expecting the 2016 election to reflect an ever-more-digitized world, the new voting system debuting in Maryland next year may look surprisingly old-fashioned.

Harford County's Board of Elections is staying busy touring with the new equipment, which will first be used in the county for the upcoming presidential election.

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The major change on Election Day will be a paper ballot, to be filled out by pen or pencil before being tabulated by machine. Early voters will have a slightly different process.

"Prior to 2004, that's how we did things. We used what was called an [Optech III-P] Eagle and it was the same type of machine. This is basically the same system in terms of that process," Dale Livingston, Harford's deputy director for elections, explained from the department's Forest Hill headquarters.

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The new system was approved by the state last year, when legislators argued the election process needs a paper record, according to The Sun.

Dale Livingston, deputy director for Harford County Board of Elections, demonstrates the county's new system for early voting in 2016. (Bryna Zumer, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Harford County was originally considered for a pilot program of the system, which would have meant Aberdeen and Bel Air voters could have used it in their municipal elections in November. That plan did not happen, Livingston said.

After voters get their paper ballots, they will take it in a privacy sleeve to the booth and then bring the ballot to a tabulator that reads the votes and deposits them into a ballot box.

In early voting, voters will use a machine called ExpressVotes with a touch screen. They will get an activation card with an individual bar code to put into the machine and, when completed, the card will print out with all their choices. They will then carry it in a privacy sleeve to the tabulator, where the vote drops into a ballot box.

The system includes some other new, behind-the-scenes pieces, like a high-speed tabulation machine for absentee and provisional ballots that allows officials to process many dozens of ballots at once instead of one at a time.

The Board of Elections office is filled with rows of neat, black cabinets, each of which neatly holds everything each precinct needs.

Harford County Council members were wary of the fairness of the new system when election officials presented it during Tuesday's council meeting.

Councilman Jim McMahan said he is concerned that candidates with names earlier in the alphabet could have an advantage because, in early voting, voters must scroll through multiple pages of long lists of candidates.

McMahan wondered if anyone asked, "Why is this so stupid?" and called it "totally unacceptable."

Election director Kevin Keene said during the presentation that part of the reason is the technology uses the nearly-extinct COBOL computer programming language. He did not, however, know why the state made the system the way it did, including having separate systems for early voting and the general election.

Dale Livingston, deputy director for Harford County Board of Elections, demonstrates the county's new system for voting on Election Day in 2016. (Bryna Zumer, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Keene also said the system will not be faster than the existing system, so there could be more lines at polling sites.

The Board of Elections will be demonstrating the voting equipment throughout October and into November.

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Upcoming demonstrations include: Havre de Grace Oktoberfest, from 3 to 8 p.m. Saturday; McFaul Activity Center, from 11 a.m. to noon Wednesday; Whiteford Library, from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday; the Democratic Central Committee meeting at 7 p.m. Oct. 27; Norrisville Library, from 5 to 7 p.m. Oct. 27; and Joppatowne Library, from 4 to 6 p.m. Oct. 29.

The board also noted two new precinct locations: In Fallston, the 4-02/4-05 combo precinct at Youth's Benefit Elementary School will be split into one at Fallston United Methodist Church and one at Veronica Chenowith Activity Center. In Jarrettsville, Precinct 4-06 at the Jarrettsville Volunteer Fire Company hall is moving to the Jarrettsville Library.

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