Residents test new voting machines in Fairfax County

Fairfax County hopes the new voting machines will be easier for non-English speakers and people with disabilities. (WTOP/Kathy Stewart)

WASHINGTON — Fairfax County residents got a chance to test out new voting machines on Friday and their feedback will help the county decide which ones to buy.

“I think it’s wonderful that we get a chance to try them out,” says Flo Naurock. She and her husband came to Tysons Corner Center Mall to go shopping and the last thing they expected was to be shopping for voting machines for Fairfax County.

The vendors set up their optical scan voting machines in the mall’s food court where voters got to test drive them.

“We have three vendors here today,” says Brian Schoeneman, secretary of the Fairfax County Electoral Board. He says voters get to kick the tires and give their feedback on the machines they like the best. After testing all three machines, the residents filled out a survey.

The county’s current voting machines are old and need to be replaced. County officials are looking for feedback from voters on how easy the new machine is to use, how accessible it is for people with disabilities and how easy it is for voters who speak a language other than English.

The county is buying optical scan voting machines. To use them, voters fill out a ballot, then feed it into the machine, which records the ballot electronically and keeps the paper ballot locked in the machine so there’s a paper trail. That’s the problem with touch screen voting machines — there is no paper trail, Schoeneman says.

“The optical scan is a blast from the past of handling voting equipment here in Virginia. The General Assembly barred us from purchasing new touch screens. So what we’ve all been doing is moving to the optical scan machines. At least with the optical scan machines there’s a physical record with every ballot.”

The county should soon announce which vendor it will choose to provide the new machines. Schoeneman says they hope to have the process finished and the new machines in place by November. At this point, they don’t know how much it will cost. For a county the size of Fairfax, the cost will be in the millions — but less than $10 million.

More voter machine testing will take place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 22 at Mount Vernon, and from 3:30 to 4:45 p.m. at the George Mason Regional Library in Annandale.

A federal election report, which came out a few weeks ago, identified the need for newer and better voting machines in Fairfax County. And last year, the Bi-partisan Election Process Improvement Commission recommended the need for new machines after problems of long waits and long lines during the last presidential election.

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