By Kendra Gravelle
When voters in Rhode Island head to the polls this November, they’re bound to notice that there’s something different from past elections.
At the September 13th state primaries, voters across the state got their first glimpse at the state’s new DS200 voting machines.
There are 590 of these new machines across the state, with six — one for each polling location — in Smithfield. Despite a low voter turnout at the state primaries, with over 16,000 eligible voters in Smithfield, these new, state-of-the-art machines should see a lot of action at the general election next month.
Featuring wireless technology and digital screens displaying ballot-casting instructions, the new machines are expected to surpass the former 20-year-old voting machines in speed and efficiency.
“Hopefully it will reduce any kinds of errors that we had in the past,” Smithfield Town Clerk Carol Aquilante said. “It will be a lot more accurate.”
The machine includes a feature, which identifies errors a voter may have made in filling out the ballot. If a voter over-votes on a question, for example, a message will appear on the machine’s digital screen asking the voter if he or she would like to fill out a new ballot.
“If the voter wants to recast a ballot, that ballot would be voided, and they would get a new ballot,” explained Pasquale Matteo, Chairman of the Smithfield Board of Canvassers. “But, the voter is able to say what they wish to do. If they want to keep that ballot as an over-vote, everyone that they voted for in that category will not count.”
If a voter does wish to fill out a new ballot, the moderator for the district will void the ballot the voter made a mistake on, and the voter will have the opportunity to fill out a new ballot.
The new machines also transmit results wirelessly, rather than using a dial-up Internet connection, as had been used previously.
Frances Luminello, Smithfield’s District 3 moderator, said the wireless transmission of results should make her job much easier.
“We used to have to take the big cartridge out at the end of the day and run it over to the town hall,” she explained. “Now all we have to do is press a button and it’ll transmit it electronically right to the Board of Elections.”
Voters might also notice that the paper ballots have changed. The new ballots are smaller in size with a smaller font size. And, unlike on the state’s former ballots, voters will be asked to fill in ovals corresponding to candidates for whom they wish to vote.
“In the past, we had to use the black marker to draw arrows,” Aquilante said, “and there used to be difficulty with that. If people drew too hard it would reject the ballot; if you used a pen instead of the marker, it would reject the ballot.”
On the new ballot, the ovals may be filled in with any color pen but green, explained Rosemary Thomas, a member of the Smithfield Board of Canvassers.
Luminello said that, despite a few instances of slight confusion among voters, the introduction of the new voting machine at the September primaries had gone smoothly.
“The machine has been very good,” Luminello said as she helped voters at her district’s polling location at the Anna M. McCabe School navigate through the new voting system. “It’s just trying to get people acclimated to a different way of voting, filling in the circle instead of going head-to-tail like it was.”
Smithfield resident Sue Connell-Quetta admitted that she was initially caught off-guard by the new voting system.
“I went in not really knowing there would be new voting machines,” she said. “My first reaction when I saw the regular pen was, ‘How am I going to make those thick arrows with a regular pen?’ I went to the next voting booth to see if they had a regular marker and there was a regular pen there also. So, I went back and looked and saw that the ballot was different and had little circles you had to fill in.”
Once she figured that out, Connell-Quetta said, casting her ballot was a piece of cake.
Connell-Quetta had one final thought on the new voting machines.
“Just be thankful there’s no master lever.”