McMINNVILLE, Ore. – On the ballot this month in Yamhill County are questions such as whether the United States should purchase the Louisiana Territory or whether Paul Newman or Garth Brooks ought to be the national director of entertainment.
The western Oregon county is spending $10,000 for a dry run of a new voting system. It is mailing mock ballots to voters for the March 11 ballot, hoping to work out any kinks in the system before an election May 20 in which the results will be real.
Oregon holds elections in March, but nobody submitted any questions for the ballot in Yamhill County. Rather than skip the election, the county decided to use it as a test of a new scanning system, as training for elections workers and as a warm-up for voters who will cast ballots in a real primary election in May.
"We're hoping it will be a little easier for people," county Clerk Jan Coleman told the county commissioners earlier this year. "But it is a change."
The counting software replaces a 20-year-old system relying on a trio of optical scanners. The old system required voters to draw, with a pencil, a line completing an arrow on the right side of the candidate they chose.
The new ballots require them to shade in a box to the left of the candidate's name with a blue or black pen. Ballots will be fed into a machine capable of scanning them digitally rather than optically.