By SAMANTHA PIDDE
Early voting for the March 17 primary election gets underway this week.
The County Clerk's office in the Carroll County Courthouse, 301 N. Main St., Mount Carroll, will serve as a temporary site for early voting, starting on Thursday, Feb. 6.
The voting site will be open Monday through Friday until March 16 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The office also will be open for early voting from 9 a.m. until noon on Saturday, March 7, and Saturday, March 14.
Early voters will be the first to utilize brand new Unisyn OpenElect election machines. County Clerk Brian Woessner and his staff received the new machines about 60 days ago and have been training and learning how to operate them.
Last summer Woessner and the Carroll County Board approved retiring the county's 15-year-old election machines and replacing them with new ones. Woessner was able to sell a majority of the old machines, which the county owned, to Knox County.
"We were lucky ‘cause the other counties are still sitting on theirs," Woessner said.
Instead of purchasing the new machines, Carroll County is leasing them under an eight-year contract with Liberty Systems.
The county's new election equipment includes 14 touch screen machines and 17 ballot readers. Woessner said voters still have the option to use paper ballots, however, they can also utilize the touch screens to vote.
Much like previous touch screen devices, the new machines allow voters to swipe left and right through the ballot, skipping races they do not want to vote on or going back to a race in which they have changed their mind.
Woessner and his staff said the new touch screen machines allow voters several opportunities to review their ballots and change their minds before turning in their votes.
Before voters print out their ballot, which prints directly from the machine), a screen is shown with all of their votes. Voters must scroll down and verify that they want to proceed before the completed ballot will print. Even then, if a voter looks at the printed ballot and changes their mind, he or she can approach an election judge and re-vote.
Woessner explained that while voters had the option for a new ballot previously, the process for handling the "discarded" ballots was more involved. He hopes these new machines will streamline the process and allow election judges to complete the process earlier on election night.
Woessner emphasized that the touch-screen ballots are still fed through the ballot reader, not processed through the touch screen machine itself. This is a change from the old computer ballot machines, where those ballots were counted separately from those fed into the reader.
The veteran county clerk also wanted to assure people that the ballots on the machines are not processed online. Through a grant, the county changed its internet connection to the more secure ICN line, which Woessner said is "hooked directly" to the State Board of Elections. Woessner and his staff all attended cyber security sessions as well.
The Primary Election will be held Tuesday, March 17. Precinct polling locations will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
For any questions about early voting or the upcoming primary election, call the county clerk’s office at 815-244-0221.