Joseph Kirk says public education piece critical as Bartow becomes pilot county this fall

Elections supervisor: rollout of new voting equipment will require ‘community effort’

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This fall, Bartow County will be one of just six counties throughout Georgia to test out the State’s new voting equipment. 

“This November and then going into next March, the eyes of the state and the nation are going to be on us,” Bartow County Elections Supervisor Joseph Kirk said at a presentation at the Frank Moore Administration and Judicial Center in Cartersville Tuesday evening.

“There was a good reason they chose us — we’re going to show them how we do things in Bartow County, and we’re going to do this right.”

In July it was announced the Dominion Voting Systems received a roughly $107 million contract to provide new electronic voting equipment, with paper ballot processing capabilities, throughout the state.

As the new machines come online for this November’s municipal-level elections, Kirk said input and assistance from other stakeholders throughout Bartow is essential.

“This is a community effort, and this is going to live or die based on community involvement,” he said. “I can’t do this by myself, our department can’t do this by ourselves — this is too important for ya’ll to not be involved.”

Ensuring the rollout of the new equipment goes smoothly, Kirk said, is a true non-partisan effort, requiring coordination from those on both the right and left sides of the political aisle. 

Although Kirk said he won’t be showing up at any candidate’s campaigning events to demonstrate the new equipment, he said he does intend on attending some partisan events this fall to show off the hardware. 

“We’re not going to focus on voters at all, this is about citizens,” he said. “Just because they’re not registered to vote right now doesn’t mean they’re not going to be voting next year … we need to reach out to every single person who can vote in the county and make sure they know how to use this equipment before they come to vote, in whatever election they choose to vote in.”

If large volumes of voters head to the ballots without any forehand knowledge of how the new equipment operates, Kirk said the end result could be extensive delays at Bartow's polling places. That’s especially concerning ahead of March’s presidential primaries, Kirk added, which are almost certain to draw a larger crowd than the city-level elections set for this November. 

“They have to know ahead of time what’s expected of them and what the process is going to be,” he said. 

While Kirk did not have any physical hardware to show off at last week’s presentation, he did provide several photographs of the new equipment, which will produce a paper record of every vote cast in Bartow, be it on a polling place device or via a provisional ballot. 

“It’s a 23-inch Samsung tablet attached to an HP laser printer,” he described the touchscreen replacements awaiting Bartow voters in a few months. “There will be new pollbooks to go with the system, they work a lot better and really should keep the lines down at the polls, and eventually we’re going to take out that first step of filling out the certificate, but we’re just not quite there yet.”

Each device will come with a disabled-access keypad as a side attachment. Under the new system, voters will continue to receive cards issued by poll workers, which are very similar to the ones handed out at Bartow’s polling places in last year's elections.

“Once you confirm your selections, rather than cast a ballot you’ll print your ballot,” he said. “That’s not a receipt, that’s your vote. You will then take it across the poll, verify the selections on the piece of paper are what you want them to be … then you’ll feed it into that scanner, and once you feed it into the scanner, you’re done. You turn in the card, get your sticker and head out the door.”

Each local polling station will have multiple printers onsite. The paper ballots can — and will be — audited after each election, Kirk added.

“If we need to reassign pieces of equipment, we can,” he said. “Unlike now, the equipment can be used in advanced voting and can be reassigned Election Day.”

Kirk said he had no concerns about ballots being cast prematurely due to screen latency issues, adding that he believes the transition should be an easy one for local voters.

“These screens are like your cell phone, we don’t have to calibrate it,” he said. “You will never see touching one name and another name is selected like we’ve seen in the media. That’s old technology and we’re leaving that in the past.”

The County is expected to receive the new hardware within the next month.

In the interim, Kirk said his top priority is the public education piece, to ensure voters don’t feel intimidated or confused by the new technology. He said he’s especially interested in opportunities to demonstrate the hardware in front of large groups and methods of mass-distributing literature, “whether it’s through utility bills or church bulletins.” 

Kirk said he already plans on showing the hardware at an upcoming fall festival in Kingston, adding that he would love to bring the devices to the Frank Moore Administration and Judicial Center or Cartersville-Bartow Chamber of Commerce building in downtown Cartersville to demonstrate the technology to the public.

At least one device, he said, will be permanently “on display” at the local election headquarters at 1300 Joe Frank Harris Parkway. 

As the new equipment comes online, Kirk said he believes it is imperative that "good information" is pushed out through social media platforms to combat "fake news" about the equipment and voting procedures.

“As you see rumors appear online that aren’t true, that you’re pushing back and saying ‘That’s not true, here’s where to go for the right information,’” he said. “What I would like to do is piggyback on the State’s advertising campaign, so we’re not reinventing the wheel, and it doesn’t look necessarily too different from what they’re pushing, and just take it one step further.”

One idea he floated up is demoing the equipment as part of student body elections at local high schools. 

Cartersville City Schools Superintendent Dr. Marc Feuerbach said he certainly wasn’t opposed to the notion.

“If you hit an economics class, you’ll hit every senior there,” he said. “I’m sure we can work something out where you can demonstrate and show it.”

Meanwhile, Tony Suber of Suber Capital Partners, LLC suggested utilizing a mass email blast campaign through the local Chamber of Commerce to spread the word about the new equipment.

“We’d be happy to sponsor that, if need be,” he said.