Joint Elections Board: Voting Machine Software Changes will Eliminate ‘Confusion’ Next Election

Changes approved Friday for software currently used in the territory’s voting could help prevent some of the confusion seen during the 2014 general election or, according to some Joint Board of Elections members, help make the situation worse.

Among other things, voters last year were concerned that Elections officials were hand-counting party ballots in an effort to make sure they were not spoiled.

At the time, board members said they did not agree with how the machines tallied ballots that had the party symbol selected and changes approved by the Joint Board during a Friday meeting on St. Thomas will ensure that:

– the software in the voting machines must be designed to keep ballots consistent with any party symbol selected by a voter (meaning that ballots will either be all Democratic or all Republican once a certain party is chosen);

– no candidate outside that particular party can be selected once a party symbol is filled in. If a voter does select someone outside the party, the machine must alert the voter that he or she “over-voted” and give them the opportunity to change their ballot;

– voters be allowed to select a party symbol and still vote for other candidates outside the party where there is not a full slate of candidates under that party designation;

– and voters be allowed to write in candidates without having to fill in an oval next to the space provided on the ballot. The software should be customized to pick up any mark in the write in areas on the ballot instead of sensing whether the oval is filled in or not.

Joint Board member Adelbert Bryan said submitting the proposed changes to Election System & Software is “tantamount” to admitting the 2014 general election was “not accurate and it wasn’t fair” but that the board decided to certify it anyway.

“We were all active participants in the process of being exposed to and reviewing these machines and now we want to change it,” Bryan said.

Other board members disagreed, saying that it was only during the 2014 election that they discovered the machines were not programmed in accordance with V.I. law.

The changes approved Friday would put the machines into compliance and ensure that the concerns that came up last year don’t happen again, according to Joint Board members Lisa Harris Moorehead and Raymond Williams.

Joint Board chairman Arturo Watlington Jr. added later, “This document is a culmination of an effort made by several members of this board to address what we all found to be a problem in the 2014 election.”

Bryan said during the meeting that Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes should not be responsible for signing and sending the proposal and letter to Election System & Software, but Fawkes said later that she only disagreed with two sections, including the exclusion of the oval next to the write-in candidate section because she said it could cause voter confusion.

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