Forget drawing the line to indicate a voter preference. The Nov. 6 election is all about filling in the oval.
Voters will have a chance to cast ballots in for the state representative from District 12B, as well as school board candidates and for school referendum questions. For many that will mean three sheets of paper at their polling places.
Voters familiar with the long-standing practice of connecting arrows with a straight line to indicate a vote will now have ovals to fill out for school board candidates or will be able to mark an "x" to choose a 12B choice.
"I've always been a proponent of the ovals," said Roy Luukkonen, Crow Wing County auditor.
Luukkonen said the advantage of the ovals comes from most peoples' experience with them from tests as school children. No doubt many remember taking a No. 2 pencil and filling in ovals for multiple choice tests.
Luukkonen said both types of voting ballots are user-friendly in terms of computating election results, but he said the ovals should benefit the electorate.
Luukkonen's office oversees local elections. This fall the special election to fill the seat vacated by Rep. Steve Wenzel, DFL-Little Falls, will combine with school board and education referendum voting. When both occur at the same time they use the same precinct. A sample ballot is published in today's Dispatch.
Thursday the auditor's office conducted a public test of the new voting equipment at Baxter City Hall. A Republican and Democratic election judge were there to observe along with two deputy auditors and Beva Olson, Baxter city clerk. Baxter's two precincts will be the only ones using the new optical scan voting equipment. The remainder of the precincts will be using paper ballots.
That equipment was checked Thursday morning to make sure there were no existing numbers already in the machines in favor of any candidates.
Tapes were also checked against sample ballots to see if votes registered properly. And then the voting machines, looking like two tall boxes with a touch pad and tape printer, were set back to zeros and the machines were locked.
They will remain locked until election day and then be checked again for zero balances before the polls open.
Seventeen precincts, including Crow Wing County, a portion of Morrison County and two precincts in two cities in Cass County -- Motley and Pillager -- are part of the District 12B voting. Voters will have a variety of school-related decisions to make depending on which school district they live in.
Luukkonen said he expects to have results about 9 p.m. Steve Dickinson, Brainerd School District business manager, said school results should be in between 10-11 p.m. The district's canvassing board will meet 11:30 a.m. Nov. 7.
The Legislature set up $1.9 million for statewide appropriations that allow a 50 percent match for cities and townships looking to upgrade voting equipment. Luukkonen said districts in the county have expressed an interest. However there are small districts that do not have the financial resources even with the state match to pay for equipment. Fort Ripley and Garrison are two cities voting entirely by mail ballot this Nov. 6 election.
Luukkonen said just having the voting machines at the larger precincts will help in getting voting results earlier. The vote counters also make note of write-in ballots and automatically put those in a separate bin inside the machine so they can be checked by election judges. The optical scan machine also lets election judges know if there is a spoiled ballot such as two votes for one elected office. The voter then has an opportunity to recast a vote.
Absentee ballots may be cast, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Nov. 5 at the auditor's office in the courthouse on Laurel Street in Brainerd. The auditor's office will also be available for absentee ballots from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 3.
As for the optical scan upgrade in voting and filling in ovals vs. the connecting line, Luukkonen said the there is still a four-letter word that election officials are avoiding. Watching over the equipment testing Thursday, Luukkonen smiled and said, "We don't talk about chads."
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