Voters embrace new machines

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ST. THOMAS - The new approach to casting ballots seemed to be a hit with the territory's voters during the primary election on Saturday.

Voters, many of them for the first time, familiarized themselves with the DS 200, a product of Elections Systems and Software, or ES&S.

The machine allows voters to fill in a paper ballot so that there is a lasting record of the vote, but it also has the speed and convenience of an electronic voting machine.

"It was just inserting a paper," said Courtney Reese, a voter at Charlotte Amalie High School poll location. "You didn't really even interact with the machine. It was like scanning or faxing something."

The V.I. Elections System purchased the 43 machines from Elections Systems & Software for $646,480 in 2013, and since has been organizing public demonstrations of the machines and how they work.

The machines have been certified by the Election Assistance Commission, which is not required under federal law but is required under Virgin Islands law.

Voters entered a private booth to mark their paper ballots. They then fed their ballots into the machines, which instantly told the voters whether they were spoiled.

If the ballot is spoiled - such as if a voter marks too many candidates for a particular office or does not mark a candidate in a race - the voter can choose to fill out a new ballot.

The machine can accept up to 1,000 ballots, which are stored in a compartment within the machine that the poll judges, who oversee the locations, can access with a key.

"People like it. They had the ability to see the names that they are voting for," said Jennifer Matthias, a polling judge at Tutu Park Mall.

In previous elections, people had to press a button for the candidate that they wanted to vote for, but they did not always trust that the button would cast a vote for the right person, Matthias said.

"You have more control because you have the ballot in your hand," she said.

Some of the voters said that they felt more assured that the new process was less susceptible to being altered by outside sources. An audit by the V.I. Attorney General's Office this year suggested that such was the case in the 2012 election, which also is in dispute in the V.I. Superior Court.

"This one could be rigged too, if you were a computer genius, but..." said Pearline Glasford, a voter at Gladys Abraham Elementary School.

Voters also liked how quick the voting process was, as they would complete their ballot, place it in the machine, and it would respond with the ballot's status - accepted or not - within moments. "People came in and said, 'That's it?' I say, 'Yeah. That's it.' " Matthias said.

Granted, some minor issues did arise since some of the voters were not able to see the writing or the fill-in spaces very well, especially in St. Croix, where the power went out due to storm-related power outages.

Voters at St. Croix Educational Complex lost power, though they had lights attached to their booths for visibility. All of the machines, in both districts, have batteries installed, so despite the power outages voters still could vote too.

Others - regardless of the lighting - simply could not see what was on the ballots because the writing and the spaces were too small. One polling judge, Gaylin Vogel at the Joseph Sibilly School polling location, said that some voters were going back to their cars for their reading glasses.

Poll judges also noted that the machines were rejecting ballots that had been marked not with the requested complete fill-in of the circular marking areas, but instead were checked or circled. Some people needed two or - the maximum three - ballots, after spoiling their first ones.

A few people simply rejected the idea of paper ballots altogether because they felt it was a step backwards.

"You just can't please everybody," said Pauline Lynch-Benitez, a poll judge at Tutu Park Mall.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@

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