new voting machines DE

New voting machines will make their debut during next week's school board elections in Delaware.  

The machines look the same and offer a full-faced ballot, as Delawareans have become accustomed. But for the first time, there will be a paper trail of Delawareans' vote.

"If we had given Delawareans voters, a piece of paper and said color in the circles, it would've been culture shock to them--I don't think this is--and they have the paper trail that I think satisfies advocate groups and Delaware voters," said state Elections Commissioner Elaine Manlove. "It's more digital, but on our old machines you hit the name, there was a little square with an 'x' and that's what you hit. Here you can hit the whole name...I always say that we bought black curtains because if we bought blue, they wouldn't know we had new machines."  

Previously, Delaware was one of just five states without a paper trail.  

"It's just a lot better than what we had just because the technology has improved over 25 years; it's going to be faster, we're going to get the results so much easier, and having the paper trail eliminates all the 'well, there was no way for me to verify my ballot' kind of thing. We have it. It's secure, it's still a secret ballot, so a lot of things haven't changed from that, but it just brings us into a whole new world. Being able to get the voter history in real-time is bringing us into the 21st century--it's where we need to be--it's an upgrade.

"It was just time for a change, now this brings us up-to-speed," she said. "I think now we are a little ahead of the curve with this." 

Delaware was the first state to buy the new machines, but they've already been used in elections in some New Jersey counties this year. She said the Garden State saw small issues, which the vendor has shared.

"Most of it is in packaging and how you just get things from your warehouse to the polling place," said Manlove. "So we're already taking advantage of the things they found, and now, we're making those corrections here."

The process of obtaining new voting machines has been two years in the making, following six to eight weeks of research and meetings by a task force, which considered how other states vote, various vendor options, vote by mail options, and a vote by paper and scan choice.

Seven vendors competed for Delaware's contract, which included new voting machines, electronic poll books, a new absentee system, and a new voter registration, and election management system. Election Systems and Software (ES&S) was selected.

"It's a new way of storing our records--instead of the state's mainframe is aging, and department of info and technology is trying to get agencies to move off the mainframe into a newer system, and when they heard that we were doing this, they thought it was the perfect time to do that," explained Manlove.  

Voting in the future will also be getting faster. Next year, at check-in, voters will no longer have to wait for poll workers to sift through enormous voter registration books as the Delaware Department of Elections rolls out electronic poll books.

"You'll come in...you can put your driver's license down there, and there's a bar code reader, and it will bring you up right on the screen. If you don't have a driver's license, you can start typing your name in," she said. "They're going to sign right on the pad, which means, for us, we get automatic voter history."

Elections staffers used to have to use a pen to go through poll lists and scan each bar code by hand.

"It takes maybe a month after an election to know who voted, meanwhile, the day after the election, the parties are calling to say 'do you have voter history yet?' This speeds up that process, so it will be immediate and more accurate."

While more efficient in many areas, results after the polls closed won't be coming in any faster. A secure thumb drive still needs to be driven from polling places to a secure location for tallying.

The machines cost $13 million, with $10 million paid by the state and $3 million paid for by federal government through the Help America Vote Act.

School board elections in all three counties on May 14, 2019, will be the first test of the new machines during a time when lower voter turnout is expected.  

"This is really what I call a soft-roll out, it's a smaller election, but it's a good chance to get voters used to seeing the machine and poll workers used to handling the machine, and then next year is going to be the big year. I didn't want to roll out all new equipment in a presidential year," she said.  

Amy Cherry is the Assistant News Director and an investigative journalist at WDEL. She joined WDEL's award-winning news team in 2010 from WBZ Newsradio 1030 in Boston and has received national accolades for reporting.