LEWISTON — It’s voting 2.0.

This Election Day, Maine will roll out 428 new voting machines with digital scanners and stepped-up tech in 228 municipalities.

Most voters will still exit their polling booths and head toward the ballot clerks, but now they’ll insert their paper ballot into a slot below a digital screen, pause, then get the machine’s OK to walk away. The devices are smart enough to detect too many votes — such as voting yes and no on Question 1 — as well as detecting questions with no responses. The machines will offer to kick those ballots back for do-overs.

Seventeen new machines arrived in Lewiston in August inside locked, black cases that looked like something out of James Bond. Staff joked about needing launch codes.

They’ve been tested and retested with dummy ballots. City Clerk Kathy Montejo anticipates a smooth day Tuesday. Lewiston is using machines to tally both state and local results.

“The beauty of the machine is that it can be programmed to ignore other write-ins (that aren’t for pre-approved candidates),” she said. “Sometimes that would add an hour or two at the end of election night. The workers are extremely happy.”

Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn, who oversees the Bureau of Corporation, Elections and Commissions, said the state leased the 428 units for five years for $1.25 million. The money came from leftover federal funds in the Help America Vote Act.

Before that lease, 125 municipalities had already been using four different types of electronic ballot counters that they’d bought themselves.

“We’ve been thinking for the last few years we’d like to have uniform equipment,” Flynn said.

The machines were delivered this summer and the state supplied training. The DS200s are federally certified and used around the country, Flynn said.

The machines require lighter-weight, slightly reflective ballot paper, dark ink or pencil and filled-in oval responses. Flynn estimated the wait time between, “Please insert ballot,” and, “You are finished. Thank you for voting!” at three seconds.

Issues that flag the ballot for problems will take longer, with the voter touching the screen to indicate they’d like the ballot accepted as is or they’d like a new one.

A small test last fall went smoothly, Flynn said, with one clerk reporting that it had taken 9½ hours to hand-count results from the 2008 presidential election.

“In 2012, it took them a half-hour,” she said.

With the new machines delivered, about 270 towns around Maine will still be hand-counting results. Flynn said the state supplied all but eight towns with more than 1,000 people.

A few towns, including Litchfield, declined the offer.

“We had plenty of election clerks and most of them enjoy the public service,” Town Clerk Doris Parlin said. But, even with many hands, “We’ve been there until 1 in the morning.”

In Farmington, the machines are an upgrade on the tabulators the town had been using.

“They’re a god-send because hand-counting is very hard,” Farmington Town Clerk Leanne Pinkham said. “When I started in Anson, we had to hand-count everything and it’s just hard after (a long) day, and hearing yes, no, yes, no …”

Lewiston’s Montejo said she was relieved the technology was debuting on an off-year. By next year’s governor’s race, poll workers and the public should be comfortable with the new equipment.

The state supplied Lewiston with eight machines. The city is leasing another nine for municipal elections at $745 per machine per year.

Lewiston’s former voting machines, 20-plus years old, have been hauled away.

“They were workhorses,” Montejo said. “They were fabulous, always accurate in recounts. I loved them, but they were considered old technology. The company took them away for scrap metal.”

The machines may mean earlier nights but won’t necessarily mean earlier results; clerks still have three days to submit those to the state, Flynn said.

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This story was updated at 9:18 a.m. Friday.


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