Paper trail: Columbus voters to test new verification system

As voters in Columbus cast their ballots for this year’s citywide election, they will be helping the state of Indiana test a new verification system that leaves a paper record of each electronic ballot cast.

The system, called a voter-verified paper audit trail, or VVPAT, is an independent verification system added to electronic voting machines that prints and stores paper copies of electronic voting records to safeguard against possible election fraud and voting machine malfunctions, said Bartholomew County Clerk Jay Phelps.

Bartholomew County is one of four counties that are part of the state’s pilot program to test the new systems during this year’s election. The other three counties in the pilot program include Boone, Hamilton and Hendricks counties, said Shari Lentz, Bartholomew County voter registration and election supervisor.

County election officials said they have received 32 VVPAT systems and plan to use them on every voting machine during early voting and on election day Nov. 5, Phelps said. Each VVPAT system typically cost around $1,500, but the Indiana Secretary of State’s office paid for Bartholomew County’s VVPAT equipment, Phelps said.

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“Where the state’s concerned and where we’re concerned is trying to ease people’s fear that they can’t see how these votes are being tabulated and put in,” Phelps said. “It’s another fail-safe so they can double-check to make sure that’s exactly who they’re voting for before that vote gets cast.”

The VVPAT system is housed in a rectangular metallic box that is approximately 1 foot tall and 6 inches wide with a clear rectangular opening on the front that allows voters to read a print-out that lists which candidates they selected before they submit their ballot.

The box comes with enough paper for around 300 votes and can be reloaded as needed, said Phelps, as he walked through a demonstration of how the machines works using a test ballot for “Gotham City.”

Not much changes for voters, who can still vote straight party or select candidates individually. However, after voters select their candidates, they will be directed to review their ballot and a printed slip will be visible in the box that houses the VVPAT system, allowing voters to read who they voted for and double-check that the system recorded their selections correctly.

The slip of paper contains the time, date, the names of the candidates selected, among other information, Phelps said. If a voter notices an error on the slip of paper, voters can void the ballot and start over, Phelps said.

Once the voters confirm the paper printout is correct, the system stores the paper sheet and is ready for the next voter to cast their ballot.

“It’s just another layer that folks can see how they voted on paper,” Phelps said. “A little misconception is that you don’t get to take the paper printout with you. That’s against state law as of right now.”

County election officials will still tally votes the same way they did before, but will have paper records of each individual vote cast on those machines to conduct a recount or to verify the accuracy of the machines, Phelps said.

Previously, only mail-in paper ballots in Bartholomew County could be audited for recounts, Phelps said. Though county election officials could compare electronic poll books at voting centers with the total number of votes cast on each voting machine, they had no paper record of each individual vote cast, Phelps said.

After the election, the paper receipts will be stored in a secure and climate-controlled location inside the Bartholomew County Courthouse, Phelps said. County election officials are required to keep the paper voting records for 22 months.

Under current legislation, Indiana counties can continue to use their current electronic voting machines without VVPATs until Dec. 31, 2029, according to the Indiana Election Division. However, starting Jan. 1 of next year, all new electronic voting machines purchased for use in Indiana must have a VVPAT.

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Early voting for the city election will take place weekdays at the Bartholomew County Courthouse from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

From Monday, Oct. 28, through Friday, Nov. 1st, ballots can also be cast at Donner Center between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., as well as at the courthouse.

On Saturday, Nov 2, early voting will take place at both the courthouse and Donner Center from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. On Monday, Nov. 4, early ballots will be accepted at the courthouse only from 8 a.m. until noon.

Eight different vote centers in Columbus will be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Election Day, which is Tuesday, Nov. 5.

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For more information on the city ballot for the Nov. 5 election and vote center locations for election day, visit bartholomew.in.gov/.

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