Just past 4 on Sunday afternoon, dozens of residents were in line to test out the territory’s new voting system. Breezes swept into the Central Administration Building as dark rain clouds hovered above — a reason why the demonstration, which was scheduled to be in the parking lot, moved indoors.
When Willie Wesley, Jr., director of business development for Election Systems and Software, showed up, things quickly got moving.
“What we’re gonna do today is we’re gonna show you the process you’ll go through when you come to vote,” Mr. Wesley said.
The first order of business: finding volunteers to fill each station. One table needed help with signing people in on electronic poll books; another with passing out ballots; and a third with operating the tabulating machine.
Though it was just a demonstration with fake ballot questions and fake voter identities, many were eager to test out the system and form their own opinions before voting booths open for the Feb. 25 election.
“I found the process to be very straightforward,” Yvonne Crabbe said. “I’ve noted that it’s a four-step process where you basically check in as you would if you were checking into a hotel. They want to make sure you’re in the right place at the right polling station.”
Electronic poll books are designed to look up voters much more quickly than before, enabling them to swipe identification cards to register in the system. In previous elections, this process was all carried out manually.
Also, Mr. Wesley told the crowd, if voters in past elections showed up at the wrong polling station, their names had to be verified through a phone call. This would often take some time — especially if the call was put on hold — and slow down the voting process. With the poll books, voters can cast their ballot from any district.
“The next step is to receive ballots, and this time we would have one ballot as opposed to two separate ballots for the district and the at-large,” Ms. Crabbe said.
Though the fake ballots didn’t have the option of four at-large candidates, on the day of elections, voters will cast their ballots for one district representative and four at-large candidates.
“And then you go and you vote for your candidates of choice and then you cast your ballots,” Ms. Crabbe finished. “It’s important that one reads: Reading is fundamental, and if you have any questions there are many polling officers on duty to answer your questions and direct you. So I found it to be very straightforward and simple.”
Long time coming
Virgin Islands election officials have pushed for an electronic vote-counting system for years, especially after observing the primary elections in St. Thomas last year. In contrast to the long hours that push election results into the night and often into the next day in this territory, results were announced in St. Thomas just two hours after the polls closed.
The new system was put to test in October during a “mock election” that more than 200 voters attended. Finally, in January, legislators passed a law that facilitated the system in hopes of eliminating the need to count votes by hand.
Since the decision to use the machines for the election was made, the
government has purchased 33 DS200 Precinct Scanner and Tabulating Machines and 50 electronic poll books. There will be one tabulating machine at each polling station and up to four poll books. With more poll books, officials hope to decrease the lines.
“We want people to be able to sign in quickly,” Mr. Wesley said. “Not only is it really fast and really accurate, but the [tabulating] machine is designed to interact with the voter so that the voter — if they make a mistake — this machine will alert them.”
The machine, for example, will notify voters of under-voting or over-voting. In case a voter fills in too many choices, the machine will not count any votes. If voters under-vote, the machine will cast votes to ones that register on the scanner. In both cases, the machine will let voters decide whether to “Cast” or “Return” the ballot.
One concern participants had on Sunday was the small ballot circles.
“You might have a little challenge keeping your fingers within the small circle, but other than that it’s very simple and straightforward,” Lloyd Black said.
Advance polling will be held on Feb. 21 for ages 70 years and up, as well as voters who are incapacitated, either by a physical cause or illiteracy. This category includes anyone who may have a hard time reading small print or filling out small circles.