By Carla Branch
alexandrianews.org

alexandrianes.org Content Manger Carla Branch, who is blind, tests the Hart Verity Touch Writer Voting System's accessible unit. (Photo: Sarah Paez)

The Alexandria Electoral Board last Friday signed a letter of intent to purchase a new voting system that will be in place for the upcoming November election. The new voting system was originally scheduled to be purchased in fiscal year 2020, to be in place for the 2020 presidential Primary Election.

When the Virginia State Board of Elections decertified Alexandria’s voting machines last year, Alexandria’s Electoral Board began planning for a replacement system. The current system was decertified because it lacked a paper trail for all ballots. The Alexandria City Council approved $895,000 to purchase the new system in the FY2020 Capital Improvement Program budget, which would have allowed the Electoral Board to purchase the new system sometime after July 2019, with plenty of time to install the new system and train election officials prior to the busy 2020 presidential primary election and the General Election.

In August, however, the State Board of Elections notified Alexandria that the Board was considering decertifying Alexandria’s current system prior to this November’s Virginia gubernatorial election because of security concerns. “Our current system is not connected to the internet so we weren’t quite sure what they meant about security concerns,” said Alexandria Registrar of Voters Anna Leider. “Nonetheless, we had to move quickly if we were to have a new approved system in place in time to provide adequate training before November.”

The Electoral Board considered three systems, that Alexandria voters were invited to test on Aug. 28 and 29. “The Board met for about five hours on Aug. 30, and selected the Hart Verity Touch Writer,” Leider said. “Hart is our current vendor and the new system most resembles our current system, particularly with respect to the controls on the accessible machine.

“Also, the other two systems’ accessible machines had smaller ballots that were easy to distinguish from the regular paper ballots for voters who use the regular machines. The new system may require some voters to ask for some assistance from Election officials but we believe it is the best system that is available to us at this time,” Leider said.

According to Hart’s website, Touch Writer is a paper ballot marking device that offers the best of both worlds – an easy-to-use interface for voters and the auditability of a traditional paper ballot. 

Easy for every voter
Verity Touch Writer provides true equality of access, with a fresh, intuitive, 12-inch touchscreen interface based on EAC/AIGA Design for Democracy standards. Paired with a Hart-integrated COTS printer, Touch Writer produces identical full-sized paper ballots for all voters – no segregated ballots – and includes adjustable audio and contrast settings and compatibility with “sip-and-puff” and other adaptive controls.

Easy for poll workers and election managers
The compact, light-weight Touch Writer is easy to store, transport and set up, and it accommodates limitless ballot styles. Ballots are printed as needed, so there are always enough ballots – and no wasted ones.

Easy to deploy and maintain
Verity Touch Writer is exceptionally easy to deploy and maintain. Election staff follow simple, plain-language onscreen instructions for quick startup and shutdown, and perform simple maintenance tasks themselves.

The Alexandria City Council will consider the cost of the purchase of the new system at the Sept. 12 legislative meeting. New system is expected to be well below the budgeted $895,000. Council must find that money in this year’s CIP budget as opposed to in FY2020.  

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