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Deadlines to register, new voting machines being tested

While the deadline to register to vote in the upcoming preliminary election on Aug. 6 has passed, residents of Pearl River County still have until Monday to register to vote in the runoff.

Pearl River County Circuit Clerk Nance Stokes said that the deadline to register for the runoff, which will be held on Aug. 27, is July 29. 

Anyone who misses the deadline to vote in the runoff that would like to vote in the general election has until Oct. 7 to do so. Residents who missed that deadline but would like to vote in the anticipated general election runoff can do so until Oct. 28. The general election will be held Nov. 5, and the runoff for that election is set for Nov. 26.

Stokes said there is a possibility a runoff for the general election will be needed due to the number of independent candidates on this year’s ballot.

This will also the be the first year that voters will use the paper ballots that are read with scanning machines.

Wednesday, election commissioners were in the process of testing all of the machines to ensure they are in working order by using test ballots.

“If there are any problems, this is where we sort them out,” Hanberry said.

The premise is simple. The voter uses a ballpoint pen to mark their selection for each office on the paper ballot, before taking it to the scanning machine where their vote is logged into an electronic system.

Once the ballot is inserted into the machine, it reads the selections made to look for errors on the ballot. Errors can include more than one selection on a particular race, accidental marks on the ballot and races that did not receive a vote. If an error is detected by the machine, the machine provides the voter with the option to eject the ballot from the machine so they can get another ballot from the poll worker.

Election Commissioner Reggie Hanberry said that voters can receive up to three ballots to correct their errors, but after that they will not be allowed another.

Once a completed ballot is inserted in the machine, a readout of the ballot is displayed on the screen so the voter can ensure the ballot was read correctly.

After the voter confirms the ballot is correct, they can push the “cast ballot” button on the touchscreen at which time the paper ballot is deposited into a secure box within the machine. Those paper ballots will act as a backup to ensure all votes were recorded correctly.

Voters can still decide not to cast a vote for any particular race, but they will need to tell the machine that the blank spot on the ballot was intentional.

All votes are recorded on a device similar to a flash drive, the data of which will be complied at the end of the night to determine results.

If the power happens to go out during an election, the paper ballots can be stored in a separate secure box within the machine so they can be scanned once power is restored. Specialized machines called Express Vote were also purchased to provide a method of voting for residents with disabilities.

Those machines print a paper record of the votes cast, which also need to be scanned by the larger machines to be counted.

Previous elections used a specialized touch screen device called the TSX.

Stokes said those machines were traded in to reduce the cost to the county to make the switch to the current machines. The total cost to the county, with the deduction from the trade in, was about $260,000, Stokes said.

Currently, 13 counties in Mississippi use the new machines, and Stokes said another eight are expected to make the switch.