Just in time for Trump, Clinton, Sanders, Rubio, Cruz and the rest, the Supervisor of Elections Office has entered the new frontier in voting technology.

Just in time for Trump, Clinton, Sanders, Rubio, Cruz and the rest, the Supervisor of Elections Office has entered the new frontier in voting technology.

Through a unique grant, the result of considerable lobbying among rural counties, the Gulf County Elections Office has now installed the latest in voting equipment as it ramps up for a busy voting season.

And that voting season begins in just over a week with early voting for the Presidential Preference primary which opens Saturday, March 5 and continues through March 12.

“We have been very busy,” said Supervisor of Elections John Hanlon.

Given the nearly two dozen local campaigns, state and national elections, not to mention a referendum on beach restoration, busy is surely an understatement.

Add to that new equipment aimed at facilitating a faster, more “user-friendly” voting experience.

Voters themselves aren’t really likely to see much difference.

Each voter is still filling bubbles in pencil on a paper ballot which is fed into a voting tabulator.

“Voters will not see much difference with the interface with the machine,” Hanlon said.

But that tabulator is where the upgrades begin.

Each tabulator is equipped with an easily-read screen which provides an ongoing count of votes-cast as well as alerts should a voter under- or over-vote.

If, for example, a voter accidentally fills in two balloons in one race, the machine will reject the ballot and highlight the error.

So, too, with not casting a vote in a race for which a voter is eligible; if no vote is cast the ballot will be rejected and the absence of a mark noted to the voter.

Another upgrade will be found in the “control room” for tabulation on voting night. Once, two computers did the job; now, the look is similar to an airliner cockpit.

In addition, the new software uses computer thumbdrives instead of previous-generation computer storage cards for archiving votes and the central portal is a secure FTP site.

“It should make it all faster and more secure,” Hanlon said. “This is the most modern technology.”

Another new tool has to do with ADA voters.

The touchscreen device they will now use is more user-friendly and allows for mistakes to be easily corrected while voters are listening to instructions through headphones attached to the machines.

“This puts ADA voters on equal footing as other voters,” Hanlon said.

The new technology was coming, Hanlon had been telling the Board of County Commissioners since last year, but when and who was going to pay were open questions.

State mandates require all voting machines be updated, and obsolete versions scrapped, by 2020, so Hanlon had to move ahead by 2019 at the latest.

However, local governments are on the hook for voting equipment upgrades and commissioners debated, in lean economic times, how and when they would be able to foot the bill of what amounted to an unfunded mandate.

For example, Duval County spent a combined $3 million before and after the 2012 election in updating equipment.

But published comments by Secretary of State Ken Detzer last year concerning the state of voting equipment in small counties, and concerns about the ability of those counties to meet state deadlines, opened the door for election supervisors in 12 counties.

Detzer noted that many counties had machines that dated back more than a decade; the 2016 election year would have been 14 years Gulf County has been using the same equipment.

The lifespan of that equipment, according to manufacturers’ guidelines, is 10 years.

Therefore, supervisors from Gulf, Franklin, Hamilton, Jackson, Bradford, Gadsden, Holmes, Lafayette, Suwanee, Union and Hendry formed a consortium lobbying for assistance.

And after what Hanlon characterized as “intense” talks between state officials, members of the consortium and Elections Systems and Software, the vendor for the tabulation equipment, an agreement was reached.

The state freed up federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds, $118,172 going to Gulf County, to update election tabulation equipment in those 12 counties.

“Those funds are not normally used for new equipment for local governments,” Hanlon said. 

The BOCC used reserve contingency funds to pay the entire amount and will receive annual payments over the next five years out of HAVA funds.

“One payment has already been made for $23,634,” Hanlon said. “To my knowledge this is a historic and groundbreaking approach.

“We were in a position to have an expensive purchase of this equipment mandated to be in place by the 2020 election cycle and I am thrilled that we will be able to save our taxpayers the expense.”