COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina is getting a new voting system that will be based on paper, not data stored on hard drives, in the most significant change to the state's voting procedure in 15 years.
The South Carolina Election Commission announced Monday they picked a company called Election Systems and Software (ES&S) ExpressVote for the new contract. The new machines are set to go online on January 1, 2020, meaning it will be the system that people use in the February presidential primaries, the June primaries, and the November general election where voters will choose the President of the United States and a U.S. Senate seat.
The system will cost the state $51 million, including hardware, software, implementation, training and support. The product was picked after a six-month long process overseen by the S.C. Department of Administration and the State Fiscal Accountability Authority.
How the new machines will work:
You'll go to a touchscreen that's familiar to people who've used previous systems. People will use the screen to make their choices. After making all their choices, voters will have the opportunity to review the paper ballot; unlike the old system, the machine will not store the vote in its memory. Instead, the voter will take their printout and insert it into a scanner. The scanner counts the vote, and the ballot is dropped into a ballot box.
Votes are then recorded on the scanner, and the paper ballots are saved for auditing and verification of results.
Why go to a new system?
The ExpressVote system will replace the current voting machines, which the state has used since 2004. The state says the current devices are old, and there were increasing concerns about security. "Having a paper record of each voter’s voted ballot will add an additional layer of security as it allows for audits of paper ballots to verify vote totals," the South Carolina Election Commission said on its website.
The elections commission says the new devices will prevent selecting more than one candidate, and from making improper marks that could be miscounted.
Richland County experienced issues with the old machines during the 2018 election, including calibration errors and concerns with the cords. The Richland County Election Commission is also working to rebuild the trust of voters after 1,000 votes weren't counted last year. That resulted in the firing of the entire election commission board and director.
The new chairman of the board says while the system is new, he believes it will help overall.
"It will probably be sometime before we will actively be able to say what the impact will be, but I am optimistic, that based on the information we've received, it's a move in the right direction," says Dr. Charles Austin, Sr.
Richland County is expecting more than 1,100 new voting machines by the start of next year.
Statewide, there are expected to be 13,504 ExpressVote machines.
“This is an exciting day for the future of elections in South Carolina,” said Marci Andino, Executive Director of the State Election Commission. “This system will not only provide voters with a dependable system for years to come, but it will also greatly enhance the security and resilience of our election process.” Andino continued, “We will now be able to audit paper ballots to verify results. This is a significant measure that will go a long way in providing voters and election officials the assurance that every vote is counted just as the voter intended.”