CHARLESTON -- Coles County has new voting equipment in place that's supposed to head off obsolescence and be more "user friendly."
The equipment largely resembles what the county's voters have used for several years. But the age of that equipment meant it wouldn't be long before it no longer received state approval, county Clerk Sue Rennels said.
"I felt like I was being proactive," she said. "Who wants to get into an election and have equipment issues?"
The new equipment has been in use since early voting started last month and will be what voters will find at polling places on Tuesday of next week, the day of the primary election.
There have been updates to both the paper ballot and touch screen versions of the voting equipment.
Rennels said the Illinois State Board of Elections typically certifies a county's equipment for two years but the board's latest certification was for only one year, ending in November. It was difficult to find replacement parts for the old equipment when repairs were needed, she said.
She added that using the touch screen equipment is similar to a cellphone or tablet computer and has been well-received by early voters and the county's election judges.
"They're seeing this as more user-friendly," she said.
There are also security improvements with the new equipment, Rennels said. Votes go onto a memory stick and are tabulated at the courthouse instead of going through a more extensive system as before, she explained.
Rennels said she expects the paper ballot method to continue to be the most popular with voters. She said voters will still darken a space next to a candidate's name to vote, but a rectangle has replaced the oval that was filled in before.
Any voter can ask to use the touch screen equipment, though it's designed more for visually impaired voters, Rennels said. The equipment can read the ballot choices to the voter, she said.
Also with the touch screen equipment, voters will be notified if they've left any races blank so they have the option to return and vote in those before finalizing their ballots.
Once a voter's finished, the touch screen equipment will print a paper copy of the ballot. That will go into the same reader as the paper ballots for scanning.
Rennels also said a new state requirement means the ballot reader will return ballots without votes on state office, which are up for election this year.
When that happens, the voter will have the choice of keeping those races blank or voting again, she said.
The cost of the equipment was about $260,000 and funds from fees already on hand covered most of the cost, Rennels said.