Borough tests new voting machines ahead of election

Sep 9, 2021

Linda Cusack and Teri Birchfield test a new voting machine in Soldotna ahead of the Oct. 5 election.
Credit Sabine Poux/KDLL

When it comes to its new voting machines, the borough is making a list and checking it twice.

Teri Birchfield and Linda Cusack with the canvass board were running through a checklist of tests Thursday morning on one of the borough's new Dominion Voting Systems machines.

They said most voters won’t register the new technology when they come in to cast their ballots. But for voters with disabilities, it could be game changing.

“The scanning is a bit more time-consuming," Birchfield said. "But otherwise …”

"I don’t think the voter will see any difference," Cusack said. "Other than they’ll wonder why it takes so long.”

“The touchscreens are going to be way more user friendly as far as listening to the audio," Birchfield said. "It’s just a lot easier. It’s going to be a lot easier for the voter.”

This machine will be shipped to Seldovia ahead of the Oct. 5 election. When Birchfield and Cusack are done, they’ll check it, and 23 others, a second time.

Most voters will vote the way they’re used to next month — by filling out paper ballots and sending them through scanners.

But the new machines have additional features for voters with disabilities. The borough bought them in response to a 2015 complaint from a visually impaired Homer resident, who alleged he couldn’t vote independently with the borough’s old machines, also from Dominion.

In the years following, the borough convened a stakeholder group to brainstorm solutions. The group recommended the borough have accessible voting machines at every voting location on the peninsula, among other steps.

Birchfield said the old machines were too outdated to be fixed.

“The last ones were basically so out of date that we couldn’t keep up with equipment," she said. "We couldn’t get new parts.”

Borough Clerk Johni Blankenship said the new machines arrived on the Kenai Peninsula in June. 

Each machine comes with a large touch screen. Birchfield said there’s a voice that reads ballots out loud.

“So this way if there’s a blind voter, they're enabled to vote themselves, independently," she said. "We have the ability with the new units for a puffer, for who people who can’t use their hands.”

Birchfield said the technology will also make life easier for election workers, who have to distribute machines all over the borough. They fold up neatly into compact containers.

“The touchscreens are way more transportable," she said. "The others were very large, for, you know, we have a lot of elderly people who work for us. Very difficult to transport."

"And set up," Cusack added.

Last year, former President Donald Trump and his followers made Dominion a target, claiming the 2020 election was rigged and that Dominion, in part, was to blame.

Rigorous audits across the U.S. have found Dominion machines to be accurate, and claims that the election was rigged have been disproven in a number of court cases. Members of the borough’s stakeholder group said they chose the Dominion machines in part because they were so secure.

Blankenship said all the machines have security seals on them ahead of the election. 

"So if they’re tampered with, then we can be notified right away," she said.

The canvass review board also audits polling locations right after each election. 

Blankenship said the machines will be stored in regional offices and delivered to voting locations the day before the election.