Same-day voter registration, early voting and touch screen voting machines are among a series of new options that Washington, D.C. voters have at their disposal during and leading up to the Sept. 14 primary election.

“The district decided that it’s time we become a model for the nation and implement the kind of reforms that voter and advocacy organizations have been seeking,” said Alysoun McLaughlin, spokeswoman for the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics.

An AFRO reporter got the opportunity to use the new iVotronic electronic touch screen voting machines recently at a public demonstration at the Takoma Park Recreation Center. The experience showed that voting using a touch screen machine is about as simple as using an ATM. Voter mistakes are unlikely, since the machine requires voters to review and confirm their choices at least once and also offers a second time to review and confirm their choices.

Similar to an ATM printing a receipt, the voting machines make a paper record of each vote, although unlike with an ATM, the paper record is not dispensed at the end of the process but kept in the machine and rolled up so the next voter cannot see the previous voter’s choices.

The touch screen voting machines are optional, not mandatory, and traditional paper ballots will still be available for those who prefer to use them, McLaughlin said.

One difference with the paper ballots is that voters will be asked to fill in an oval next to the candidate’s name instead of connecting an arrow to the candidate’s name, as was the case in previous elections.

Besides giving the electorate the option to vote electronically, other voting changes leading up to and including the Sept. 14 primary include new options and procedures around early voting, and an ostensibly hassle-free same-day voter registration process. The changes are the result of the Omnibus Election Reform Act past by the D.C. City Council last year in response to various problems that occurred in the 2008 election cycle, including problems with the city’s voting equipment.

With respect to early voting, the most significant change is that voters no longer have to provide election officials with a reason for why they wish to vote absentee. Previously, voters had to cite an excuse, such as having a disability or being out of town, for why they could not vote the regular way.

“That was done away with,” McLaughlin said.

Now, voters can request an absentee ballot by mail or via the D.C. election board’s Web site.

Early ballots can be cast 15 days prior to the election, which begins Aug. 30.

Early ballots can be cast in the old Council chamber room at One Judiciary Square, 441 Fourth St., NW. Additionally, voters can vote early at four satellite locations from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sept. 4 to Sept. 11 at Chevy Chase Community Center, Turkey Thicket Recreation Center, Hine Junior High School, or the SE Tennis and Learning Center. However, all voting locations will be closed on Sundays, Sept. 5 and 12.

McLaughlin said electronic “poll book” computers will be networked to prevent voters from voting at two separate locations.

Same-day voter registration is also a new feature during this year’s primary election.

Same-day registrants may cast a special ballot, but may not use the new touch screen voting machines. The special ballots will not be “live” but will be reviewed in time for the results to be certified 10 days later.

Same-day registrants’ information will be made public, and anyone in the district can challenge the legitimacy of a same-day registrant’s vote, according to McLaughlin. By the same token, same-day registrants may appeal if their votes are not counted.

A toll-free number will be set up for same-day registrants to check on the status of their votes.

In order to register to vote on the day of the election, voters must provide proof of residency, which can include any government document that shows the voter’s name and address, or a utility bill, bank statement, driver’s license, government check or paycheck.

The elections board will make various efforts to verify the legitimacy of same-day registrants, McLaughlin said, including sending out notices to the addresses they provided to make sure the mail doesn’t come back as undeliverable. She said officials will also review voting information in Maryland and Virginia to make sure no one is voting in the district as well as those two nearby jurisdictions.

 

Jamaal Abdul-Alim

Special to the AFRO