Voters in Independence and Oak Grove will use new voting machines next month, and that system rolls out to the rest of Eastern Jackson County in 2016.
The ballot will be a single sheet of paper, and voters will color in a spot for their choices, like taking a standardized test in school.
“Hopefully these (changes) are going to be seamless,” said Tammy Brown, co-director of the Jackson County Board of Election Commissioners.
The county has used a punch-card system – followed in recent years by the similar Ink-a-Vote system – for about 40 years. But federal voting law changes enacted after the punch-card debacle in Florida in the 2000 presidential race have pushed local voting authorities to new technologies, and technical support for punch-card systems has dried up.
“Ink-a-Vote was showing its age,” Brown said.
A single sheet to vote on is simpler as well, replacing the several laminated pages of the election-booth booklet voters have seen for years. Some voters would inadvertently skip a page or two.
“They’re not going to have to flip through every page like they do now,” said Bob Nichols, the board’s other co-director.
He said the Election Board tried the new system in a few precincts in Raytown a couple of years ago and the response was positive.
Just three special elections are on the ballot Nov. 3 – a public safety sales tax renewal in Independence, a Missouri House seat that includes much of central and southwest Independence, and tax questions in Oak Grove.
Next year, however, will be busy, with local elections in February and April, a statewide presidential preference primary in March, an August primary and a full slate, including the presidency, in November. Nichols and Brown said it’s good to have a few special elections now to get the system up and running in advance of the full calendar in 2016.
The Jackson County Board of Election Commissioners oversees all elections in the county outside Kansas City. Eastern Jackson County has about 215,000 voters.
The Election Board has no taxing power, but it charges cities, school districts and others for the elections it runs. It’s been setting aside money for the $386,000 down payment it made on the new system and took out a $1 million loan, with the support of the County Legislature, for the rest.
“Basically all we needed was the county to sign the document,” Brown said.
The board pays off that loan at $112,000 for 10 years, but Brown and Nichols hope to pay it off more quickly and then set aside money for the next system that will be needed in a few years. Ink-a-Vote, for instance, was designed for seven years, and the Election Board used it for nine. The new system, from Unisyn, is designed for 10 years.