Candidates satisfied with public test of elections equipment

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Three candidates seeking various county offices oversaw the required public testing of the Supervisor of Elections’ voting equipment Wednesday afternoon and appeared satisfied with the results.

Brian Heady, who is running for the District 5 County Commission seat, said all of his questions were answered regarding how the ballots are handled and votes counted.

His biggest concern was with the absentee ballots, given that some had folds going through candidates’ voting lines. He and Supervisor of Elections candidate Sandi Harpring have expressed concern that such folds – and subsequent creases – would be read by the scanning machines and marked as a “vote.”

“I feel more comfortable,” Heady said with the process.

Harpring said that while she was more comfortable knowing the process, she’s not sure if the crease issue with the absentee ballots has been fully addressed.

“We’ll wait until election night,” Harpring said.

She said that she believes the Supervisor of Elections Office is taking the absentee ballot issue seriously.

“I’m confident with the Canvassing Board that every vote will be counted accurately,” Harpring said.

More than 70 ballots that had been returned to the Supervisor of Elections Office as undeliverable were pulled to serve as test samples, Gary Gordon, the office’s information technology manager said. The ballots included those from the Republican, Democratic and Non-Party Affiliated parties.

To date, nearly 400 absentee ballots have been returned to the Supervisor of Elections Office as undeliverable, according to Marge Diehl, the absentee ballot coordinator.

Gordon ran the sample absentee ballots through the scanner without votes having been placed, to start. The purpose was to ensure that the creases from the folding and mailing would not affect the vote count, he said.

The ballots were run through the machines five times, at Gordon’s insistence.

“That’s a personal thing I do,” Gordon said of repeating tests, noting that there have been instances of machines working during one test but failing the next one. “I test thoroughly. We don’t want issues.”

Later, he marked votes on each ballot and logged those votes to compare with the machine’s tally.

Gordon led the tests, walking employees through various steps, including running pre-determined votes through the optical voting machines used by voters with visual challenges and scanning test ballots through a sample of counting machines to ensure the votes match record.

“Printers have been known to have bad printing,” Gordon explained as the staff ran 37 voted test ballots through the tallying machines.

Tax Collector Carol Jean Jordan, who is running against a fellow Republican challenger in the August Primary, came to the public testing, not because of any particular concerns she had about the process, but to educate herself on how the votes are tallied.

“I’m interested in how the process works,” Jordan said, explaining that she remembers the time when voting machines were lever operated.

As Tax Collector, many who come into her offices looking to renew or receive driver’s licenses often ask about registering to vote.

“We get a lot of questions,” Jordan said, adding she wants to be sure she and her staff have the needed answers.

Supervisor of Elections Leslie Swan, who was appointed to fill the remainder of then-Supervisor Kay Clem’s term, said that the test went according to plan with no surprises.

“I didn’t anticipate any problems,” she said.

The public test is a requirement leading up to every election, Swan said.

As for having an audience, she said that was different – the office doesn’t typically have anyone from the public attend.

“I think it’s good they understand the process,” Swan said of those who attended the public test.

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