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Troy students see how Lincoln County ballots are counted

The Western News | October 25, 2022 7:00 AM

The Lincoln County Election Department’s annual test of its ballot counter provided several Troy High School students a look at part of the process that features one of our country’s most important rights.

The test, which was held on Friday, Oct. 14 in the Election Center at the county Annex Building on Mineral Avenue in Libby, included 15 test ballots from each of the 14 precincts in the county. Ballots in the test deck were all marked “TEST” in red ink.

Choices were made and the ballots were hand counted so when they were run through the machine, the results could be compared to make sure the DS450, a scanner and tabulator manufactured by Election Systems and Software, was operating properly.

“Every county has to do the testing and it certifies that the machine is working properly,” said county Election Administrator Paula Buff. “We will also run a second test on the morning of the election to make sure it is still operating properly.”

After overseeing a primary election in June where all the ballots had to be counted by hand because a printing error left the ballots not readable by the machine, Buff said she is happy the first test was a good one.

“The tabulator is working and I’m pleased with how the machine worked and the test deck results were good,” Buff said.

Brett McCully, who volunteers on county elections, explained that write-in candidates must register before the election so they are counted.

“People will write in ‘Donald Duck’ and those are not counted because they are not a legitimate write-in candidate,” McCully said.

Buff also explained that absentee ballots, which were mailed last week, must be in her office on Election Day, Nov. 8.

“Ballots that are mailed on Election Day won’t be counted,” Buff said. “They need to be mailed in time to make it to our office on Election Day.”

She also said election officials will begin running absentee ballots through the machine late on the morning of Nov. 8. Buff said she hopes all the ballots are counted by about 2 a.m. Wednesday.

For Troy High School Civics teacher Steve Morris, the opportunity to see the certification of the machine as his students follow the mid-term election, was great.

“Paula (Buff) visited us in Troy and explained her responsibilities and now the kids get to see how the machine works,” Morris said. “We have voting-age eligible students and our goal is to get the kids to understand why their votes matter.”

Morris said his students will track the candidates, what they are up to and what they are saying. It will culminate in an election night watch party.

“In addition to the kids learning why voting is so important, one of the chief goals is to get them to think for themselves. It’s OK to be a skeptic because the truth can be a sloppy thing,” Morris said.

Morris also said he teaches apolitically. “The kids will never know how I have voted.”

Buff said the machine costs about $50,000.

“The money comes from my elections department budget and it is one of the things county residents pay for with their taxes,” Buff said. “The money is set aside for capital projects, which include buying large-ticket items.”

For Morris, it is money well spent.

“I feel a sense of satisfaction when I vote,” he said.