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Republican primary first election for Beach’s new paper-ballot system

The new digital scanner voting machine Beach voters will encounter at the polls on Tuesday. [Photo provided by the City of Virginia Beach]

BY JOHN-HENRY DOUCETTE

COURTHOUSE – Beach residents voting in either of the two state senate primaries on Tuesday will use new machines that digitally scan paper ballots.

“You’re going to walk in, and it will be different,” said Donna Patterson, the general registrar for the city, on Friday. “It’s a totally new way of voting now, which is the big issue for voters.”

The city spent $1.4 million on the new machines, replacing electronic machines that brought some unwanted attention to the voting process in the fall, when issues were reported with 31 touchscreen machines machines in 25 polling locations.

U.S. Rep. Scott Rigell, R-2nd, raised concerns about the issues on election day after voters complained that their votes for him were being recorded for challenger Suzanne Patrick, a Democrat.

The replacements were in the works then, according to the registrar’s office, and the fall 2014 election was already planned to be the last with that system. State law since 2007 has required replacement voting machines to be paper based.

Benefits of the new system include a record of votes should the need for a recount arise, Patterson said.

It might also help if power went out because voting could continue on paper, according to a city statement released earlier this year.

“There’s a paper trail,” Patterson said during an interview this past week.

Voters will arrive, check in with ID, and then go to a polling station. They will use a pen to fill in a circle next to the name of their choice, and then feed the form into the voting machine. The machine accepts the form and scans it.

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Additionally, special machines for people with disabilities are available. The machine has a screen, headphones to assist visually-impaired voters, and a hand-held ballot marking device with buttons that are marked in Braille.

“We showed it to 18 visually-impaired voters, and they were thrilled,” Patterson said.

“For the audio ballot, the voter has the option to black out the screen,” said Tracy Gibson, the assistant registrar.

The primaries on Tuesday are in the 8th and 14th state senate districts.

The 8th Senate District covers much of the eastern part of the city, including Courthouse and parts of Pungo and Back Bay. 

Bill R. DeSteph Jr., a state delegate and former member of the City Council, faces Craig M. Hudgins to replace state Sen. Jeff McWaters, who is not running again.

The 14th Senate District covers southern parts of the Beach, including precincts in Creeds and Blackwater, as well as parts of six other Hampton Roads municipalities.

Incumbent state Sen. John A. Cosgrove Jr. faces challenger William “Bill” Haley, both of Chesapeake. Cosgrove, for years a state delegate, won a special election two years ago for Harry Blevin’s old seat.

Fifty-three of the 98 precincts within the city fall within one of the two districts and will be in use on Tuesday, according to the registrar’s office. However, primaries generally result in low turnout. Only 5 to 6 percent of eligible voters are expected to show up at the polls on Tuesday.

“We’d love to have more voters,” Patterson said.

“The nice thing about the primary is we get to roll out the equipment during a slower election,” she added.

Under state law, voters must provide photo identification at the polls. Anyone lacking identification when they show up Tuesday can still cast a provisional ballot. They can return with ID later or take advantage of photo identification made at the registrar’s office.

Voters who cast a provisional ballot have until noon, Friday, June 12, to bring their identification, Gibson said.

Reach the registrar’s office at (757) 385-8683 or email voter@vbgov.com.

The Independent News

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