Fairfax Co. rolls out ‘completely secure’ new voting machines

FAIRFAX, Va. — With in-person voting for the presidential election starting Friday in Virginia, election officials who will be counting the most votes in the commonwealth say new systems there should allay concerns about hacking.

Voters in Fairfax County will first fill out paper ballots and then feed those paper forms into scanners that actually tally the votes — and drop the paper ballots into a bin that is locked and sealed as a record.

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“This is a completely secure system that never has any connection to the internet,” said Fairfax County Registrar Cameron Sasnett, who provided reporters with a demonstration of the new system.

The paper ballot that voters will fill out with pens will also better show the voter’s intent, “because it will be captured on that ballot with that ink,” he added.

The approximately 600 machines that will be used in the county have been tested, locked and sealed with seals that change color if they are broken.

Even the special voting machines for visually impaired voters provide paper records that are put through the scanners.

Sasnett said he expects an approximately 80 percent turnout for the election, which translates into about 100,000 in-person or mail-in absentee ballots.

The three-member Fairfax County Electoral Board hopes the paper ballots, which allow more people to work on their ballots at once, will also help cut down on potential lines at the polls.

Lines could be exacerbated by a complicated back of the ballot in Fairfax County with several bond referendums, state constitutional amendments and a meals tax proposal.

The county is also introducing a new check-in procedure that can be done by scanning the required voter identification in many cases. While there will be backup paper poll books, the change could help move voters through more quickly than in the past.

In-person absentee voting begins Friday at the Fairfax County Government Center.

Other cities and counties have their own voting locations. Virginia voters need to provide a reason to vote early whether by mail or in person, but many people qualify if they work long hours or have long commutes on Election Day.

On Election Day, Virginia’s polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

D.C. and Maryland polls are open Nov. 8 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Both D.C. and Maryland have early voting periods where ballots can be cast early by anyone who wishes.

Alejandro Alvarez

Alejandro Alvarez joined WTOP as a digital journalist and editor in June 2018. He is a reporter and photographer focusing on politics, political activism and international affairs.

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