Cooper County residents will have new voting machines for next year’s elections, from local to presidential, after the Cooper County Commission approved buying new machines for each polling location.

The commission agreed to purchase 12 sets of voting machines from Election System and Software for $106,280, including a ballot reading machine and an accessible, touch-screen machine for people with sight and hearing impairments. The voting machines will first be used in the March presidential preference primaries next year, said Cooper County Clerk Sarah Herman.

Out of the three companies that bid, Election System and Software had the easiest machines to use, Herman said. Boone County bought the same machines this summer, so the clerk’s office took a trip to Columbia to test them. They liked that the machines were easy to use and gave voters the option to use the touch screen or fill out a paper ballot, Herman said.

Each polling location is required to have accessible voting machines for federal elections, such as the ExpressVote machines included in the Cooper County deal.The machines have a touch screen, a headphone jack, a keypad to control an audible ballot and a port for sip-and-puff assistive technology.

Voters using the ExpressVotes insert a card to activate the machine, then make their selections using either the touchscreen or the keypad. After the voter reviews their selections on a summary screen, the machine prints out a paper ballot with the voter’s selections, which the voter then inserts into the ballot reading machine.

Voters have the option of printing out a secret ballot, which prints a code instead of marking the selections on the paper. The machine will read the code as the voters’ selections, Herman said.

Voters filling out a paper ballot will notice a slight change, too. Instead of drawing a line next to the candidate or answer of their choice, the voter will fill in a bubble next to their selection, like on a standardized test form.

Election System and Software offered a two-year warranty, compared to the one-year warranties the other two bidders offered. The company also offered to have representatives on site for two elections to help out if there are any technical issues, Herman said.

The clerk’s office will offer public demonstration machines in late November or early December, Herman said. The office is also planning to bring the machines around the county for demonstrations. Residents can request a demonstration in their area by contacting the clerk’s office at 660-882-2114.

bcrowley@gatehousemedia.com