GREENSBORO — The votes are in, and Guilford County’s new system of hand-marked, paper ballots came through its first, full-fledged test without any major snags.
Elections Director Charlie Collicutt said the new equipment worked well in Tuesday’s primary and voters adapted successfully to the shift away from touchscreen voting to paper ballots.
“There was some apprehension early in the process because it is something different from what you’ve been doing for the last 15 years,” Collicutt said Wednesday.
Voters came out for Tuesday’s primary in robust, if not record numbers: 112,728 cast ballots, or about 31% of the county’s registered voters, Collicutt said.
That’s 5% below turnout for the last presidential primary in 2016 when 122,897 voters participated, he said.
Once voting got under way Tuesday, the only significant drawback came from delays by state government’s computer system in displaying Guilford’s results online, Collicutt said.
“The big issue was how slow the state’s website was,” he said. “The upload was so slow.”
Guilford County spent about $2 million for its new voting equipment to comply with changes in state law that require systems to leave a better paper trail than the touchscreen terminals Guilford had been using for years.
The new system relies on printed, multiple-choice ballots that voters fill out in ink and feed into a tabulator at their precincts.
Votes are recorded digitally much like the touchscreen system, but the new equipment retains all ballots so they can be individually audited if there are questions about the results.
Although its up-front equipment costs are lower, the new system uses ballots that must be printed anew for each election in a variety of versions to accommodate differences among the precincts. That cost the county about $80,000 for Tuesday’s primary, Collicutt said.
He noted that the transition to the new voting system was helped by 15 days of early voting at 15 sites throughout the county between Feb. 13 and last weekend. That enabled staff members to get acclimated before the new system was rolled out to all of Guilford’s 165 precincts on Election Day, he said.
Election officials ended the day Tuesday with 332 “provisional” ballots in situations where a significant question has arisen about the voter’s status. That’s about a third of the 2016 provisional tally of more than 1,000, Collicutt said.
Precinct officials allow voters to cast provisional ballots when questions arise about such issues as their party affiliation or whether they are registered at the right address.
Officials look into each case after the election and make recommendations to the county Board of Elections that determines whether the votes count.
Collicutt said Tuesday’s primary triggered no challenges in which a voter is accused of fraudulently casting a ballot by someone who, for example, might claim that the person under suspicion is a felon who has lost the right to vote.
During the 2016 election cycle, Guilford County had nine such “election protests” lodged against people accused of having also voted in other states. Those protests were dismissed for lack of evidence.