Alaska's touch-screen electronic voting machines, purchased to assist those with disabilities but available to anyone, are prepared to handle the challenge of a write-in campaign, state elections officials say.
The Elections Division bought machines for each of the state's 439 precincts, but they've never yet been faced with tallying votes for a write-in candidate.
In this year's most hotly contested race, for the U.S. Senate, Republican nominee Joe Miler and Democratic nominee Scott McAdams are being challenged by a write-in candidate, incumbent Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
State Elections Director Gail Fenumiai said the machines can handle write-in votes.
Voters who choose the "write-in" option on the touch screen will see an on-screen keypad with which to enter the write-in candidate's name, Fenumiai said.
"It's pretty slick," she said.
The state Elections Division bought the machines about five years ago to assist the blind, disabled and voters with reading disabilities to vote unassisted. They can display ballot choices in magnified, high-contrast and audio options.
The also have a voter-verifiable paper trial, meaning the voter can review the ballot created by the machine before it is cast, she said.
They're used in elections with federal races, but have never yet been used for an election for which write-in voted needed to be counted, Fenumiai said.
Typically, write-in votes are only counted if there are enough total ballots containing write-in votes for there to be a winner.
"We've never had to count write-ins since our write-in rules came into play," Fenumiai said.
Few people around the state use the machines, purchased with a federal grant. In one Juneau election looked at by the Empire as many as 25 percent of voters in one precinct cast ballots electronically, while in other precincts there was no electronic voting at all.
Fenumiai said it was probably one percent or less of ballots that are cast electronically.
"The preference for Alaskans is still that paper ballot," she said.
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