ELIZABETHTOWN - Officials at the Essex County Board of Elections are looking to give voters in the region some hands-on experience with new voting machines.
Election commissioners have planned two voter outreach programs in Essex County where voters can practice using the new OptiScan voting machines, which were mandated to replace lever-style machines used here for the past 50 years or more.
"There's a misconception among voters that they're going to be voting electronically," said Republican election commissioner Derinda Sherman. "This is not a touch screen system. People are filling out their own ballots," said Democratic election commissioner Robert Pell-duChame. "People should not fear this system."
Still, there's some concern voters, especially the elderly, who may be intimidated by the change. That's why the Board of Elections is putting the machines in service early, to get voters more familiar with them.
A few of the machines will be in operation in Floral Hall at the Essex County Fair, Aug. 11-15. A similar program is scheduled for the Newcomb Senior Picnic in late August.
A third mock election is being organized at the Board of Elections office in Elizabethtown, but a date has yet to be set.
As Sherman explained, voters will fill out a paper ballot, not unlike absentee ballots used in past elections. They will then feed their ballot into the scanner, which "reads" their votes and tabulates them.
"They will simply fill out an oval next to their candidate choice," Sherman said.
If a voter makes stray marks or marks the name of too many candidates for the same position, the machine will indicate the error and ask if the voter wishes to redo their ballot.
In that case, the old ballot becomes a "spoiled" ballot and is set aside - kept, but not counted. The voter is issued a new ballot to mark and feed into the scanner.