Early voting for the March primaries began Thursday in Monroe County, and the 23 people who have already taken advantage of that opportunity have used the county’s new voting equipment.
The county purchased that equipment, which cost almost $200,000, to replace its aging machines that were causing problems.
“I don’t think (the current equipment) can make it through another election cycle,” Monroe County Clerk Jonathan McLean told the county board before it bought the machinery in September.
The primary election is the first one in which the new machines will be used, but McLean said about 99 percent of people who vote on election day will use traditional paper ballots.
That is because each polling place will have only one of the new ExpressVote ballot marking devices.
So, unless a voter specifically requests to use these new touchscreen machines, election judges will direct them to a paper ballot if that equipment is in use.
For those who do vote on the ExpressVotes, they will begin the process the same way as normal by giving their name and address to election officials. Those who vote early will give that information to the workers in the county clerk’s office.
Once they are signed in, voters will get a piece of paper with a barcode on it that the machine will read.
The barcode will indicate what party and precinct that resident is from so the machine knows what options to give voters in the primary.
Individuals will insert that slip into the machine, which will then give them their choices.
Voters will tap the screen, which seemed responsive when the Republic-Times tested it, to make their choices, following onscreen prompts.
Once voters are finished, they will be shown a review screen with all their votes.
If someone decides they want to change their vote or realizes they hit the wrong button, this screen allows them to select that option and change their vote. After a change, the machine returns to the review screen.
Once the person is comfortable with his or her choices, he or she will finalize their votes.
The machine will then print out the slip of paper with the barcode on it, this time with the voter’s selections listed. This allows people to again check to make sure there are no errors.
If there is something wrong, voters can simply request a new ballot from the election officials or a paper one. The election judges will spoil the old ballot and give the person a new one, which has no impact on the vote or voter.
Additionally, individuals can tap the exit button on the ExpressVote machines at any time to stop voting that way and get a paper ballot. A prompt comes up to confirm that is what the person wants to do so that does not happen accidentally.
Once the ballot is finalized, voters will then take it to the new ballot box with an optical scanner and insert it as shown on the screen.
“The biggest thing is if it’s not right, don’t put it in the box,” McLean stressed. “Once it goes into the ballot box, you’re done. There’s no way of getting it back.”
For a video of McLean explaining the new voting equipment, visit the Republic-Times’ YouTube channel.
The new equipment comes with a variety of security features to minimize the risk of tampering or foul play in elections.
That includes encrypted USB drives that store the voting information in the ballot box and are kept in a locked compartment on the machine and the equipment not being connected to the internet.
The ballot boxes have the capability to have a cellular modem plugged in, but McLean said the county did not even purchase those devices because they were unnecessary.
No modem was plugged in on the machine the Republic-Times examined.
The ballot box also prints off a list of votes at the end of the day to allow a manual checking of votes if needed.
The machines have all passed security checks from the State Board of Elections, McLean said.
Additionally, the equipment fully complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It has audio and braille features for those with impaired vision and options for those in wheelchairs.
It also has buttons that allow the user to zoom in or adjust the contrast.
For all those reasons, McLean said voters with disabilities will be given priority for the new machines on election day.
Everyone who votes early, however, will use the new machines.
Early voting is available until the day before the primary election at the county clerk’s office. The office is open every weekday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The primary election is March 17.
Early voting will also be available March 14 at the county clerk’s office from 9 a.m. until noon.
“When it started back in 2008, I was against early voting,” McLean said. “Now, I can see why a lot of voters like it. Early voting is more convenient for those with busy schedules. Voters in Monroe County have several options to cast their ballot. They can vote early in-person at the county clerk’s office, vote by mail or in-person at their polling place on election day.”
Those voting in the Republican primary will choose between three candidates for state representative: David Friess of Red Bud, Dave Holder of Baldwin and Kevin Schmidt of Millstadt.
In addition, Republican Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente is running for president against Donald Trump in the primary and there’s an Illinois Fifth District appellate court judicial race between Mark Boie of Union County and Katherine Ruocco of Swansea.
Additionally, Republicans John B. Barberis Jr. and David K. Overstreet are vying to go against Democrat Judy Cates for a spot in the Illinois Supreme Court Fifth District.
Finally, registered Republicans can select between Mark Curran, Robert Marshall, Casey Chlebek, Peggy Hubbard and Tom Tarter as a candidate for U.S. senator.
Voters registered as Democrats for the primary will help decide the state’s preferred party presidential candidate. The options are Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Michael Bloomberg, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Deval Patrick and Tom Steyer.
In addition, Joel Funk of Mascoutah and Raymond Lenzi of Makanda are running for U.S. representative for the right to face incumbent Republican Mike Bost this fall.
Voter registration can be done in person at the Monroe County Clerk’s Office in the courthouse by the end of day Feb. 18, and also at the driver services facility in Waterloo. For more information, call 618-939-8681, ext. 306.
Registration can also be done online by 11:59 p.m. March 1 by visiting ova.elections.il.gov.
Illinois residents who are 17 on or before the March 17 primary election and turn 18 on or before the Nov. 3 general election are now eligible to vote.
McLean is visiting area high schools to help seniors register to vote.