by Daniel Schere | @Daniel_Schere

Just less than two years away from a busy 2016 election cycle, elections officials in Forsyth County are reviewing ways to make voting a smoother process. To do so, the Board of Elections will ask the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners for 130 new DS200 voting machines that will replace the iVotronic machines that are used for early voting. This comes in response to a mandate from the General Assembly that all counties must begin using paper ballot systems by 2018.

Forsyth County has used a mixture of paper and electronic ballots in the past. On election day, M100 machines are used to scan paper ballots. Deputy elections director Lamar Joyner said these machines are used in all 101 precincts.

“We typically have one of these at each location.

Sometimes we’ll have to change one out if something was to happen,” he said.

The machines record the vote after the ballot is inserted and it drops into its side, where a PCM card records the result. Joyner said the board has not decided whether to order more of these.

The iVo machines are activated by a device called a personal electronic ballot, or PEB, which is stuck in the machine and records a voter’s information. A voter makes his or her selections on a screen that is calibrated to display candidates from the respective precinct.

Joyner said these have an audio component that makes the machines accessible to the blind.

The new DS200’s are similar to the M100’s in that they read paper ballots but are slightly more sophisticated because the Intelligent Mark Recognition Technology focuses on the ballot markings and excludes any marks outside the outline of a circle that is shaded.

It makes an attempt to determine the intent of the voter based on the darkness and shape of the mark. Joyner said these machines also have components that make them accessible to the disabled.

The potential changes come in the wake of last November’s election cycle, which was plagued by irregularities between machines that jammed, ballots that were not counted and people who voted twice. Joyner said he thinks the issues had more to do with the ballots themselves than the machine and is not concerned about similar problems arising in 2016.

“I think some of the issues were with the extended ballot since the ballot was a little bit longer,” he said. “There were problems, but we will finish the testing of the equipment, and we should be fine for 2016.”

Board of Commissioners c hairman David Plyler said he awaits the report from the BOE, but until then he is not sure what position he or the board will take on whether to allow the purchase of additional machines, expected to cost $1.4 million.

“Before we get to the point where we have to make some kind of decision on it, I would feel more comfortable commenting about that with more knowledge,” he said.

Former BOE director Kathie Cooer, who served as the Forsyth County BOE Director for 33 years before taking a job with the state, said the current equipment was purchased in 2006. She said at one time each precinct had specific M100’s that were programmed for those respective ballots, but the iVo machines simplified the process.

“The nice thing about the iVotronic is that they could handle all different ballot types, and Forsyth has a lot of different ballot types,” she said. “That’s why they were so perfect for the one-stop voting. Because people could vote at any of the one-stop sites no matter where they lived, and that made it easy.”

Cooper, now retired and living in Lake Norman, is largely removed from Forsyth County politics but said she definitely thinks an alternative to the M100’s will be necessary once the iVo’s are phased out. She added that discrepancies in voting tabulations are very common, but none ever occurred in a way that changed the outcome of an election while she was there. She said the results of an election are not official until canvassing has been done.

“The canvass is to go through and see if you had any problems on Election Day,” she said.

One person who is concerned about fair elections is Katherine Fansler, who came within about 300 votes of winning a seat on the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school board. Fansler protested the results, but a recount still showed her finishing behind Mark Johnson for the final spot. She thinks the difficulties with the election occurred due to changes in the ballot.

“Because the General Assembly took away straight party voting it made voting take so much longer for every person, so for most of the polls the lines were incredibly long,” she said.

Fansler acknowledged that new machines are a big expense, and a closer examination of what happened on Election Day is necessary to determine the next steps.

“I think we need to talk to the precinct judges and ask them in a non-combative format what is it that happened,” she said. “What is it that you need to do your jobs better? Because ultimately top-down decisions in this kind of situations can be fatal.”

Fansler said she would consider running for office again, but for now will stay involved in improving the elections process.

“For me, I definitely will be watching and offering input if I feel like it’s constructive,” she said. !