Itawamba County board votes to remove troublesome voting machine feature

By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times

A little-used but troublesome feature on Itawamba County’s touch-screen voting machines may soon be removed.

Both the Itawamba County Election Commissioners and the Itawamba County Board of Supervisors recently voted to discontinue the use of the small printers on the TSX voting machines in order to remove the printer housings, which they agree cause numerous problems on election day.

According to a formal letter to the Itawamba County Board of Supervisors — which has to formally request the printer housings’ removal with the Mississippi Department of Justice — Itawamba County’s election commissioners detailed the problems being caused by the printer housings of the electronic voting machines.

“The printers and the housings cause 90 to 95 percent of election day problems, by causing paper jams and running out and needing to be changed,” the letter states. “When this occurs, the voting process and this machine have to be stopped until the paper is fixed or changed and proper documentation has been made, therefore slowing down the voting process in the precinct due to two of the poll workers [being] required to work on one machine.”

Itawamba County Circuit Clerk Carol Gates and Itawamba County Election Commission Chairman Wayne Beard presented the letter to the board last week and further explained the reasoning behind the request. They explained that the printers themselves will stay on the units and most of their primary functions — including the printing of the zero verification report before voting begins and the closing reports after voting ends — will be retained.

“The printers will not be removed. It’s the housing that goes over the printers that is causing so many problems,” Gates said.

She called the printer housings fickle, stating that even the slightest disturbance has the tendency of knocking the things out of whack.

“If they get bumped, even slightly, it just throws everything off,” she said.

Although most of the printers’ functions will be preserved, Gates said voters will no longer be able to view a hard copy of their ballot before finalizing it.

“When you vote, it gives you the option to print out what you’ve voted and look at it,” Gates explained, adding that this feature is so infrequently used that many people don’t even know it exists. “Once you’ve cast your ballot, the paper rolls back up, leaving a paper trail.”

The information that’s printed matches that on the screen exactly, which is why most people don’t even bother.

Gates said all of this information is backed up on the unit itself, so the hard copy isn’t really necessary. Election commissioners will still be able to print out hard copies of the day’s voting if need be.

“If there happened to be some reason that we needed to get a back up or look at the votes cast that day, it’s on the machine itself,” Gates said.

Although some may see this lost feature as a negative, election commissioners believe the positives garnered by removing the printer housings are far more numerous. According to the letter, printer housing problems may lead to unnecessary expenses in the future.

“Due to the use and deterioration of the printer housings, some are broken and unable to be used and [the] replacement cost is $75 each,” the letter states. It adds that discontinuing the use of these printers could save upwards of $360 per election due to the cost of paper for each machine.

Several other counties have already removed the printer housings after facing similar problems. Gates said Monroe County was the first to do this, quickly followed by Prentiss and Alcorn counties.

adam.armour@journalinc.com