Official: New equipment streamlines voting process
If you ask Yuma County Election Officer Sharyn Runyen, the big winner in Tuesday night's election wasn't one of the candidates, it was the new optical scan voting equipment that was put to use for the first time.
"I really liked it," Runyen said. "The equipment worked out great and everything went pretty smooth."
Things went so smoothly that Yuma was the first county in Arizona to report complete results from all its precincts to the secretary of state's office.
Instead of punching holes in a ballot card with a stylus as they've done in past election, those going to the polls this year used scannable paper ballots to cast their votes. After voters mark their choice on a ballot - filling in an oval with a pencil or pen as on a standardized test form - the ballot is fed through a scanner and the vote is read and tallied.
Once the polls are closed on election day, each of the optical scanning machines transmits its data via modem to a computer in the elections office that adds up the votes cast at each precinct.
While the new voting equipment was much faster and simpler to use, Runyen said she was pleased there weren't any problems during the election.
"We took precautions to make sure there wouldn't be any problems," Runyen said. "We took a voting machine to each polling place and tested the transmission lines, so we knew they would transmit to the server. We also tested each of them to make sure they were scanning and counting the ballots correctly. Once we knew they were working, it was more about being nervous and waiting for everything to come together."
Runyen said her department began receiving data transmitted from the voting machines within moments of the polls closing, with the first such transmission coming in just seven minutes. As a result, Runyen and her staff were able to complete the entire election shortly after 9:30 p.m.
"We had all the results from all seven polling places back to us by 7:42 p.m.," Runyen said. "We even had the voted ballots and scan machines back in the office shortly after 9 p.m."
While he like getting the results back quicker, a Democrat who was at the county administration building Tuesday night waiting for results did have one complaint.
"It takes some of the fun out of the election process," said Luis Heredia. "We all used to come down here and hang out together waiting for the results to trickle in."