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New Ada County system to quickly tally ballots

Posted at 6:19 PM, Feb 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-20 20:25:24-05

Ada County Elections officials are unveiling their new, electronic ballot counting system to the public. They say it will speed up the ballot counting process and save the county money by reducing staffing costs. 

The new, $1.6 million system makes it so the ballots no longer have to be counted by hand. Plus, there are new stations for the disabled that are designed with their convenience in mind.

The new Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant voting machines can assist those who have visual, audio and learning impairments, as well as the wheelchair bound population. One such station will be set up at each of the 145 precinct voting locations throughout Ada County.

The library in Meridian off of Cherry Lane was one of six precinct locations where a mock election using the new system was held Saturday. It was a chance for the public to get familiar with the new process, which is more or less self-explanatory.

Instead of casting your ballot by placing it a metal box, it will be inserted into a scanner that reads and records the ballot. Before, the ballot counting didn't begin until the polls closed.

"The advantage is that we don't have to physically count each ballot, which is so time consuming," says Jeff Gerrard, a chief judge of elections for one of the Meridian precincts.

The electronic device keeps an ongoing tally at each precinct location. Then, the results that are stored on a thumb drive are uploaded to a safeguarded computer.

Prior to the new system, the ballots were taken to a central location to be added up.

Ada County election officials are excited to have a more streamlined process in place.

"The last presidential election, we were working well into the next day on Wednesday. And, it was very stressful for workers and everyone involved in the process," says Jared Hays, Ada County Elections director. "Now, we hope to get results out before midnight."

In his role, Gerrard sets up and tears down the polling station equipment. He looks forward to having the user-friendly system in place.

"I'm thrilled because it will let me get home earlier," Gerrard says.

The new system will be in place for Ada County's next vote, which is March 8 for the Republican and Constitutional primaries.

If you're wondering what happens to the physical ballots, as per Idaho code, they're held onto as a back up.