County election commission prepares for early voting

By Julie Fann
Star Staff

The Carter County Election Commission is preparing for early voting, which begins Friday and continues until July 27. Tracy Harris, Administrator of Elections, said yesterday that voting machines are being updated with the new election ballot.
   "Hanging chads? I thought I'd never forget that word after the 2000 election. They aren't a problem in Carter County," Harris said.
   Eight voting machines, instead of the usual six, are located in the conference room for the election, and all 72 machines are being updated for better performance. Harris said the machines have more activation keys than before to hold more extensive election ballots.
   The commission has received a lot of phone calls from citizens asking when voting begins and if they can vote early. "I think it's a very good idea to vote early because you don't have to stand in long lines, and we have two extra machines this time," Harris said.
   Many residents who are chronically ill, over age 65, or who live outside Carter County usually mail in their election ballots and vote early. Harris said approximately 242 people are registered to vote by mail.
   "We've had 147 of those ballots come back already," she said. "We're trying to sort through them now and get them organized."
   There have been few questions about who is running for office this year, according to Harris, and she believes that is due to candidates having better door-to-door campaigns and getting the word out to their constituents.
   Harry Stout, a locksmith who has performed maintenance on the voting machines for several years, explained how easy it is to take care of the machines now compared to years previous. "We just change the ballots now and put new cartridges inside them," he said.
   The two-inch cartridges contain all election information on them and are updated either through an outside company or in the office by Harris, who connects them to a computer that transfers the new information to the cartridge.
   The older voting machines were designed by a company called Shoupe, according to Stout, and were completely mechanical, big, and heavy. "They're so much smaller now and much more efficient. They have back-up batteries in case the electricity goes out," he said.
   The only portion of the old voting machines that ran on electricity was the light inside them, and voting involved pulling a lever instead of just pushing a button. "Voting is very simple on these machines. It's just a matter of helping people get used to them," Stout said.
   Stout said updating the machines has taken only a few days this time, whereas preparation for the November election will be incredibly time consuming.
   For the 2000 Presidential Election, 6,946 Carter Countians voted early, which was a record for the election commission. The commission will be open for early voting from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.