On paper, it looks simple

Venango County voters will cast their ballots Tuesday on an old-style paper ballot.

While it sounds simple and easy, the rules have changed significantly since county ballots were cast via the paper route 35 years ago.

“We want people to be aware – they have to read the instructions on the ballots to be used Nov. 5,” said Gerry McGuinness, voter registrar for Venango County.

Last spring, the county commissioners purchased new voting machines that follow new state regulations focused on providing a paper record, meeting standards of security and being adaptable to more intense audits.

What resulted is a system that uses paper ballots that are electronically scanned and the votes counted.

A voter will receive a paper ballot and a black ink pen, retreat to a table surrounded by a privacy screen, fill in the ballot and then insert it into a scanner. Each of the county’s 46 precincts will have a voting machine as well as a second machine geared for the visually impaired voter.

While the feel of paper and pen has returned for the voting public, there are new and specific guidelines in place to ensure each vote is accurately cast and counted.

Fill in the oval

The two-sided paper ballots feature an oval, similar to those icons found on academic and vocational tests that require filling it in as the correct answer. The same test-taking procedure is required for voting, said Denise Jones, retired county administrator and contracted election director for the county.

“You have to fully fill in the oval on the paper ballot,” said Jones.

“That is especially important if you are doing a write-in. Just putting the name on the ballot will not get it counted. That oval has to be filled in beside it for it to be counted.”

Do not over-vote

The 2019 election is an off-year exercise that focuses on local contests. As a result, dozens of elective offices that range from county commissioner to township supervisor, city council member, school director and others are listed on the ballots.

There are numerous elective positions that feature more than one post. Voters will choose three county commissioners, for example. In school districts, as many as five seats are open.

The tally of open posts, though, doesn’t always coincide with how many votes can be cast. In the commissioners race, three will be elected but voters are instructed to cast votes for no more than two.

“You can under-vote but do not over-vote,” said McGuinness. “The scanner will not count it and will return the ballot to the voter for a change. If it isn’t changed, that vote will not count.

“It’s important for the voter to read the the ‘vote for not more than’ instruction for each race.”

In launching the new system next Tuesday, county election officials are confident the process will go smoothly.

“Our staff has been well-trained and we’ll be there to help,” said McGuinness. “We’re good to go. But, I emphasize, the most important thing is to read your ballot and know the instructions.”

More poll workers needed

Each of Venango County’s polls require a full set of election officials to be on hand when the polling places are open. Many of the clerk positions have been filled by students who have volunteered. On Nov. 5, more than 40 local high school students will assist at the polling sites.

There is a “desperate need,” though, for majority and minority inspectors who work with the judge of elections in each precinct, said McGuinness.

“We need them at the polls,” said McGuinness. “They work a full day and are paid – $110 to $130 for the day.”

Interested persons should contact Jamie Kirkwood, administrative assistant and elections coordinator, at (814) 432-9512 or by e-mailing jkirkwood@co.venango.pa.us.