Santa Clara County unveils new voting machines ahead of primary election
Santa Clara County Registrar Shannon Bushey demonstrates how to use audio assistance when voting. Photo by Luke Johnson.

For the first time in nearly two decades, Santa Clara County is overhauling its voting system and county officials last week unveiled new voting machines that officials say are more efficient and secure.

The new machines are part of a larger plan to implement the Voter’s Choice Act in Santa Clara County, making voting easier and more convenient by opening 115 vote centers countywide — instead of precinct voting —and sending all voters a ballot in the mail.

“There’s no excuse for anyone not to show up at a vote center,” said Paulo Chang, an election division coordinator. “Well there are plenty (of) excuses, but this won’t be one in which there is not enough time to vote.”

The Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters on Wednesday also unveiled its slogan, “More days, more ways to vote.”

Among the changes this year, Santa Clara County voters can submit their ballots by mailing it in with prepaid postage or by placing it in any one of the 99 drop boxes located across the county.

Voters can also submit their mail-in ballots at vote centers, where they can get new ballots if they think they made a mistake. And instead of being forced to go to an assigned precinct polling place, as was the case in previous years, voters can now head to any vote center.

“The goal of the Voter’s Choice Act is to increase turnout — whether by mail or at vote centers,” said Santa Clara County Registrar Shannon Bushey.

Also last week, the Registrar of Voters demonstrated its new voting machines, Dominion Voting System HiPro Scanners. Employees said it can count 180 to 200 ballots per minute.

Santa Clara County Registrar Shannon Bushey demonstrates how to submit a ballot for the primary election on March 3. Photo by Luke Johnson.

Bushey said machines cost about $1.6 million per year over an 8 year lease. She said her office did not buy the machines, as it did in 2003, because the Secretary of State “decertified” those machines years later.

Addressing fears of voter fraud and miscounts, officials said the machines are more secure because they  also work offline to help prevent tampering.

The new voting system and machines received some pushback from officials because of the costs of implementation. Chang said another one of the challenges with the new system is having to teach voters and poll workers how to use it.

People who choose to vote in person also don’t have to wait until Election Day anymore. Vote centers are opening earlier than ever before.

The first vote center in Santa Clara County opened two weeks ago at the Registrar of Voters building on Berger Drive in San Jose.Twenty-one more vote centers throughout various cities will begin operating Feb. 22. An additional 87 vote centers will become available on Feb. 29. All the centers will remain open through Election Day.

The changes mean voters can cast a ballot in any city across the county.

“Let’s say you live in Gilroy, but you work in Palo Alto today,” Chang said. “In the old days, you would have to rush down from Palo Alto to be back in Gilroy to vote on your local ballots.”

Contact Luke Johnson at 18johnson.luke@gmail.com and follow @Scoop_Johnson on Twitter.

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