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Election judges test voting machines ahead of primary

Judges made sure the machines correctly counted

Two election judges test voting equipment.
Breezy Point election judges David Chanski and Deb Runksmeier test out the voting assistance equipment during a test run of Crow Wing County's voting machines Thursday, July 28, 2022, at the land services building ahead of the Aug. 9 primary election.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — Election officials are diligently preparing for the Aug. 9 primary election.

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Crow Wing County judges publicly tested the voting machines this week to demonstrate their accuracy and prepare for the big day.

Judges from all the county’s precincts took turns at the machines, feeding pre-marked ballots into the slots and making sure the tabulated results match up with the already tallied numbers.

“They’re checking all aspects of it … and making sure that everything is coming out the way they’re supposed to,” Administrative Services Director Deborah Erickson said Thursday, July 28, during the afternoon testing session.

State statute dictates counties must conduct this test before each election and have the process open to the public and witnessed by at least two judges of different political parties.

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Judges tested the assistive voting features for those who are visually impaired or otherwise need assistance casting their ballot, and watched how the machines handle ballots that are filled out incorrectly.

Ballots that have too many candidates marked for one race, don’t have a vote for all applicable races or that have votes that cross party lines for the primary election will trigger an error message on the machine and allow voters a chance to get a new ballot. The voter could also choose to cast the incorrect ballot if they do not want to make changes. In that case, the tabulator machine will count any votes cast correctly while ignoring those that are incorrect. If a voter casts a ballot with two governor candidates marked off, for example, but only one candidate in other races, the governor votes will not be counted but the others will.

While Minnesota uses tabulator machines with software to count the votes, paper ballots are still required in Minnesota to be used as the official voting record. The machines are not connected to the internet.

“All that this machine is doing is scanning the marks that are made on that paper ballot and providing that result tape that shows what that voter marked their ballot as,” Erickson said.

Members of the public in attendance at the sessions got to fill out their own test ballot if they wanted to see the machines in action themselves.

Rachel Kohn was the only person aside from county staff and election judges present for Thursday afternoon’s testing session. Gearing up to be a first-time judge in Brainerd this year, Kohn wanted to get a feel for the process ahead of the primary.

“I thought it was an excellent experience and example for the people that got to do it,” she said. “I can’t wait to go and do some of it myself on Election Day. I don’t know what job exactly I’m going to do, but now I’ve got more of the process.”

A total of four people showed up to the four sessions Wednesday and Thursday, but Operational Support Supervisor Kathy Toensing said those who did come with questions seemed to leave with more confidence in the system than before.

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“They didn’t realize that there was that much entailed, which is most of the public I think,” Toensing said. “They don’t realize what goes into it until they actually see it. I think it’s a good thing — being transparent and open. Come ask the question, we’ll answer.”

Toensing said it is also a great way to see the election judges in action and a small amount of the work they put in for each election.

“These people that are in here are just members of the public,” she said. “They are community people who, they want to be involved. They believe in the system. They believe in the elections. They believe in all of it. And they are just here to do their part. And like, it could be your neighbor. It could be a friend of yours. It could be a church member. It could be anybody. So there are a bunch of great people that have dedicated a lot of time, a lot of days and a lot of effort into creating an election that is fair, and it works.”

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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