This week may be the only time state election officials encourage Oklahomans to vote early and to vote often.
Oklahomans will have the opportunity to view and to try out the state's new voting machines during a mock election Monday through Thursday. People may mark paper ballots and insert them in the new scanners.
Each of the 77 county election board officials will have the machines on display during their normal business hours. County election board hours vary.
Residents don't have to present voter or photo identification or sign in to use the machines. Names of Oklahoma personalities are on the ballots.
“This is just really a demonstration,” sate Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax said. “We certainly invite the public to come see the new voting devices and see the new ballots, mark one and put it through the scanner.”
Optical scanners replaced
The state Election Board last year replaced its optical scanner devices. They were bought nearly 20 years ago and lasted twice as long as expected.
The new machines were installed last year. They will be used officially for the first time in the Feb. 14 school elections.
The new devices will be used statewide for the first time in the March 6 presidential preferential primary.
Voters won't see much of a change in the process of voting, Ziriax said. The new machines will operate similarly to the old devices; they still will allow voters to use the same kind of paper ballot.
Voters still will mark the ballots and insert them in the optical scan counters.
The biggest change will be how voters mark the ballots, Ziriax said. Instead of connecting an arrow on the right side of a candidate's name, voters will fill in a box to the left of the candidate's name.
“This is a new voting system,” he said. “We have new computers, new software programs, new voting devices. There's always a learning curve when you install any kind of new system. We certainly ask that voters and the public (are) patient with us.”
The state Election Board last year bought the new voting system for $16.7 million, which includes the initial costs of buying and installing the system, as well as locking in future prices for spare parts, software license agreements, training and optional products.
The system was paid for with money received the past several years through federal Help America Vote Act grants.
State law requires Oklahoma to use voting devices that are scanners, which means having a paper ballot that is hand-marked by the voter and it is tabulated by a scanner when the voter puts that ballot into the voting device, Ziriax said.
The optical scanner devices used by Oklahoma have been reliable and accurate since they first were used in the presidential primary in 1992. The statewide system replaced a county-by-county system, in which voters in all but six counties cast ballots tabulated by hand.
No election has been cast in doubt because of the statewide voting system used by Oklahoma, Ziriax said.
The federal grant money was given to Oklahoma and other states to help them get their voting systems into compliance with federal regulation, which includes providing a method for voters with disabilities to cast ballots privately and independently.
In 2006, changes were made to Oklahoma's voting system to meet those federal requirements. Voters with vision problems and those who have trouble marking a ballot have the option to use telephones at every polling place and county election board office.
The new system allows disabled Oklahomans to vote without assistance. Disabled voters will be handed a long and narrow pad, somewhat like a keyboard, attached directly to the voting machine and with headphones. They will use a dial to scroll through the ballot and press another button to cast their votes using braille. The device also has a port that allows devices used by other disabled individuals to be plugged into the voting machine.