Some Berkshires voters will use new machines, but 'it's the same concept'

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PITTSFIELD — Some voters in Berkshire County will have a slightly different experience when they cast a ballot in Tuesday's primary election.

A wave of communities, including the county's three largest cities and towns — Pittsfield, North Adams, and Adams — upgraded their voting machines this year.

Voters in most towns, officials say, won't notice much of a difference between the new and old vote-tabulating machines.

"It's the same concept; you're going to feed your ballot through the machine like before," said Haley Meczywor, Adams town clerk.

This year, the towns bought the new ImageCast Precinct machines, manufactured by Dominion Voting Systems and purchased through New Hampshire-based LHS Associates.

North Adams and Adams each purchased five machines for their five wards, while Pittsfield bought 15 — one for each precinct and a spare.

Although they will feel familiar to anyone who has used a voting machine, the new machines come with advantages, the town clerks say. If there is an error on the ballot submitted by a voter, the ImageCast machines have a screen that will explain the problem to the voter instead of just spitting back out the faulty ballot — and relying on an election worker to explain the issue.

"The voter can read exactly what's wrong," said North Adams City Clerk Marilyn Gomeau. "I think there's a little more privacy to the machines for the voter."

Error messages can pop up when, for example, a voter selects more candidates for Board of Selectmen or City Council than a ballot allows.

"Our other machines, it would just kick it back at you and the voter would have to look at the ballot and wonder, 'What did I do wrong?'" Meczywor said.

Lenox Town Clerk Kerry Sullivan said the town bought two machines, one of which is a spare. "The only thing we've noticed is, it's a little slower," Sullivan said of the machines.

In Egremont, the transition is a bit more significant. Tuesday's election will be the first in a transition from hand-counting ballots to an electronic tabulator. The switch won't be a shock to town voters, who had to approve the expenditure on the new machine at a Town Meeting.

"Hand-counting ballots is really a long day for our poll workers," said Town Clerk Juliette Haas. "This will make for a quicker count."

Egremont election workers already have been trained on the new machine and, as is the case with other towns, LHS Associates will have staff on hand to provide support on election day.

"It's really not a difficult machine to understand; I think we'll be fine," Haas said.

Gomeau won North Adams City Council approval this year for $32,000 to purchase the machines, noting that the city previously bought new voting machines in 2007. The lone manufacturer of one of the old Accuvote machine's parts is in China, and LHS Associates would not work with it Gomeau said.

"The company was no longer going to be servicing the machines we had, so. basically. they were just outdated," Gomeau said.

Pittsfield previously upgraded its machines 14 years ago and has trained more than 80 election workers on the new system, according to City Clerk Michele Benjamin. North Adams and Adams each trained more than a dozen poll workers on the machines.

The machines are not connected to the internet, and town officials are confident in their level of security. They are used in more than 100 cities and towns in Massachusetts.

Williamstown also purchased the new voting machines but will not be using them for the primary election.

The life span of the Imagecast machines is expected to exceed 20 years, according to the manufacturer.

Adam Shanks can be reached at ashanks@berkshireeagle.com, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


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