The McDuffie County Elections and Voter Registration Office is acquiring approximately 93 new touch screen voting machines.
The new machines for McDuffie County are possible because of the $150 million budgeted for new statewide voting system which was included in the record budget Gov. Brian Kemp signed in May.
According to Elections Director Phyllis Wheeler, the new voting system would allow voters to actually touch paper and voters will be able to vote by depositing a paper ballot into a scanner for casting and tabulation.
“This will provide the voter with another option of confirming their candidate selection before confirming the ballot,” she said.
Governor Brian Kemp signed a $53 billion budget for the fiscal 2020 on May 10, and it becomes effective July 1.
The machines will be in place statewide in time for next year’s presidential primary election.
State Rep. Barry Fleming, of Harlem, sponsored the legislation to replace Georgia’s electronic voting machines with a touchscreen-and-paper ballot election system. Fleming represents District 121, which covers McDuffie and parts of Columbia County.
“Georgia’s current voting machines are about 18 years old. Although they have served us well, all technology has a shelf life,” Fleming said.
“My legislation, House Bill 316, will purchase, for all of Georgia’s counties new voting machines, and provide for training on their use. The new system will use similar touchscreens, but also produce a printed ballot with the voter’s choices. The paper ballot will be scanned and saved so a audit can be done after the election to confirm the vote counts.”
Georgia’s current digital voting system was harshly criticized following the 2018 November elections, especially for the governor and lieutenant governor races, when voters complained about voting problems, such as ballot changes, and accuracy of votes.
A lawsuit from concerned Georgia voters challenging the current machines and statewide use of hand-marked paper ballots is moving forward. On May 21, U.S. District Judge Amy Totenbery denied a request that the suit be dismissed.
According to Wheeler, the lawsuit would not allow the use of current voting system after Oct. 1 of this year.
“Pending what the judge says, I have no idea of what we will be using for early voting in October or on Election Day in November 2019,” Wheeler said. “We are waiting to see what it means for county’s having elections this year.” Residents in Thomson will elect a mayor and city council this fall.
The state’s 2020 budget also contained some bad news for McDuffie County in a change to the state’s title ad valorem tax on motor vehicles (TAVT) distribution formula, effective July 1.
According to Pam Workman, county finance director, on July 1, the local/state split will move up from 5.444 percent to 65 percent, or an increase of 12.5 percent. “On the negative side of that is the true up tax,” she said. In 2018, the county collected 296,814 in ad valorem taxes. “They are removing that,” Workman said. “We are going to get 12.5 percent more, but they are taking away $300,000, which is not going to make it up to us,” she said. “There is no way that percent is going to overcome $300,000,” she said.