Politics

Hand-Marked Paper Ballots Make Comeback – For Now – In Cobb County

Residents of Cobb County, including those who live in Smyrna, are using hand-marked paper ballots during local elections this fall.
Residents of Cobb County, including those who live in Smyrna, are using hand-marked paper ballots during local elections this fall.
Credit Emil Moffatt / WABE

When Steve Seals walked into the Smyrna Community Center on Monday morning for early voting, he was handed a piece of paper, a pen and a ballot with two races: one for mayor and one for city council.

“It was interesting. It was like being in college,” Seals said. “I’m older, so, you had the Scantrons that you had to bubble in.”

Because of a federal judge’s order, voters in Cobb County are hand-marking paper ballots. The ballots are then fed through a scanner and locked away in a ballot box.

Other voters agreed that it felt like a test in school.

Seals said it bolsters his trust in the system.

“It puts confidence in the process for people not to say it was hacked or there was something that is off about the process when you have two verifications — the electronic and the paper,” he said.

Cobb is the only county in Georgia to use these hand-marked paper ballots this fall, along with the new scanners. The county volunteered to test out an election like this.

Five other counties in Georgia are using the new electronic touchscreen machines. They produce a paper copy of the ballot that is also fed through the scanners.

Cobb County elections director Janine Eveler is looking forward to a full rollout of the touchscreens and scanners next year.

“It’s newer equipment. Everything’s on a newer operating system, so all of that makes it more secure,” Eveler said. “Plus, we have the added benefit of the audit trail with the paper ballot.”

Cobb does have some of the new touchscreen devices that can be used by voters with disabilities.

By March, all of Georgia’s 159 counties are supposed to have the new equipment in place.

If they don’t, a federal judge said, the state must use the hand-marked paper method being tested in Cobb County this fall.

That worries Robert Schwartz, a former poll worker who also voted in Smyrna on Monday.

“It’s only two people, today, that you’re voting for,” said Schwartz. “When you get a [paper] ballot that’s got like 50 things on it, it’s gonna take a long time.”

And that could mean longer lines at the polls.