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Gloucester, Poquoson will use new voting machines in November

Voters in Gloucester County and Poquoson will use new equipment when they go cast their ballots in the General Election next month.

Gloucester and Poquoson are among 22 Virginia localities forced to use new equipment after the Direct Record Electronic voting equipment was decertified in September. The state Department of Elections called for the decertification of the Direct Record Electronic voting equipment in an effort to secure elections after federal officials found the state Elections Department website had been scanned by hackers who may have been in Russia. Officials said the hackers did not actually get into the website.

Gloucester, Poquoson and the other localities will now use an all-in-one machine that functions as an optical scan tabulator and ballot marking device. Voters will cast their vote by filling in a Scantron-style oval.

“The security of the election process is always of paramount importance. The department is continually vigilant on matters related to security of voting equipment used in Virginia,” Commissioner of Elections Edgardo Cortés said in a statement.

The new machines have a paper trail, making them much more difficult to hack. They’re also hidden in a secure space and are completely empty, said Bobbi Morgan, Gloucester County general registrar and director of elections.

“There's nothing electronic on this machine at all. There's no internet. This thing is going back. We're basically going backwards instead of forward to electronics because of the whole hacking issue that came up," she said.

The machines will be monitored by more than one person at all times so they can’t be physically broken into, either. Morgan encouraged voters to not believe everything they hear about hacking.

"I know people hear stories and put it together and make it sound believable but it's not. It’s not happening," Morgan said.

But the move left some localities in a lurch.

“It caught a lot of localities by surprise, and they moved quickly,” said Tammi Pinckney, Poquoson’s general registrar and director of elections. Poquoson was the only other locality on the Peninsula using touchscreen voting machines before they were decertified. Her office plans to ask the city for money for new machines for the June primary, but is forced to borrow machines for the November election.

In Gloucester, the county agreed to foot the $136,275 bill for 14 new machines. That allows the county one machine for each of its 12 precincts, plus a backup and spare machine.

A proposal by Gov. Terry McAuliffe to add $28 million to the state budget for new voting machines in 2015 wasn’t approved by the General Assembly.

Gloucester used to use two separate machines — one optical scan machine and one touchscreen. Now, all the tasks are consolidated into one machine. Voters in Gloucester County already fill in paper ballots, so this won’t be too new to them, Morgan said.

“It’s wonderfully easy. That’s been the good news,” she said.

Absentee voting is available in the Office of the Registrar. The last day to vote in person is Nov. 4; the last day to request an absentee ballot by mail is Oct. 31. The last day to register to vote or make changes to a name or address is Oct. 16.

Mishkin can be reached by phone at 757-641-6669. Follow her on Twitter at @KateMishkin.

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