The machines were used for the first time in suburban primary elections last week.
Hennepin County’s new high-tech voting machines got their first use last week during suburban primary elections in Bloomington, Minnetonka and St. Louis Park, and they worked like a charm, city officials said.
Though the test was small, involving just 59 precincts, the primary gave city clerks in those suburbs some real-life feedback to forward to county election officials.
One thing Bloomington City Clerk Janet Lewis will tell the county is that it would be good to highlight the arrow on the machine that shows voters where to insert ballots. Election judges had to assist some voters who were confused by a black privacy shield that hides the ballot as it is fed into the machine. They tried to push it into the machine on top of the shield instead.
But that was a small thing, Lewis said.
“The voters liked the equipment and the judges liked it even more, because of the ease of setting up and closing polls,” she said. “We only have an hour to get polls up and running, and this really reduces the steps involved.”
The 550 new precinct counting machines and four central counters cost Hennepin County $4.1 million. Anoka County has spent $1.5 million for a similar setup and will use them in this fall’s school district election.
Ramsey, Washington, Dakota and Scott counties are buying new machines, too, but they won’t be used until next year.
In Minnetonka, one machine jammed, said City Clerk David Maeda. But it turned out to be an issue not with the counting machine but with the ballot box it sat on. A metal bar on the box apparently bent when the machine was put on top of it, and ballots couldn’t slide into the box.
In contrast to the old voting machines, Maeda said, the new ones have an electronic screen that immediately tells election judges if a ballot has been counted and alerts them if it doesn’t fall into the box.
“With the old machines, it was hard to figure out what happened,” Maeda said. “The error messages on this one are just fabulous. ... Once I figured out that the metal piece was at fault, we fixed it and it was fine.
“We had very low turnout. The machines worked, but it wasn’t a very big test for them.”
St. Louis Park City Clerk Nancy Stroth said the new machines are lightweight, easy to move and easy to set up.
“I think people in general are more used to technology, with iPads and everything, and they like having a screen to look at,” she said. “This is very friendly. If someone makes an error, it explains it in detail and tells the voter what they need to do.”
For example, if a voter “over votes” — fills out too many candidates on a ballot — the machine spits the ballot out and the screen explains what they did wrong, giving them a chance to vote again, Lewis said.
“We’re the guinea pigs; I was very excited to show off the new equipment,” Stroth said. “I just love it.”
Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380