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MailTribune.com
  • When speed counts

    Machine can sort and verify signatures on as many as 19,000 ballots an hour
  • When the new employee at the Jackson County Clerk's elections office gets warmed up sorting ballot envelopes, watch out.
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    • Election drop-box sites in Jackson County
      All locations except Rogue River are open 24 hours a day and all are open until 8 tonight:
      MEDFORD: Jackson County Elections, 1101 W. Main St., Suite 201. Curbside ballot drop box (left lane on ...
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      Election drop-box sites in Jackson County
      All locations except Rogue River are open 24 hours a day and all are open until 8 tonight:

      MEDFORD: Jackson County Elections, 1101 W. Main St., Suite 201. Curbside ballot drop box (left lane on West Main Street).

      ASHLAND: Ashland library, 410 Siskiyou Blvd. Curbside ballot drop box by book drop in alley off Gresham Street.

      CENTRAL POINT: Central Point library, 116 S. Third St. Walk-up ballot drop box.

      EAGLE POINT: Eagle Point library, 239 W. Main St. Walk-up ballot drop box.

      ROGUE RIVER: Rogue River City Hall, 133 Broadway St. Open 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 to 8 tonight.
  • When the new employee at the Jackson County Clerk's elections office gets warmed up sorting ballot envelopes, watch out.
    "Right now, it's running at 12,960 an hour," said Jackson County Clerk Chris Walker. "But I've seen it do up to 19,000 an hour."
    The worker is a state-of-the-art automatic Bell & Howell Co. ballot-sorting and signature-verification machine. It's being used for the first time in a general election in Jackson County.
    Lights flash, gears roll and belts whir as ballot envelopes streak through in a blur.
    "This saves a huge amount of time for us," Walker said. "The way this benefits the public is that we will get the results out quicker."
    During the 2008 presidential election, the office had about a dozen human signature-verifiers working, she noted.
    "Now we only have five," she said. "And they are doing it five times as fast as what we could do it before because they are not physically handling every ballot envelope. The less physical handling of the ballot envelopes the better.
    "The way we used to do this was have signature-verifiers use a hand scanner to scan every single ballot envelope," she said. "They would take every ballot envelope and hold it up to compare it to the voter registration card signature on the screen."
    With an estimated 100,000 ballot envelopes expected to be processed in this election, the automatic sorter is a big asset, she said.
    The first results are expected at 8 p.m., Walker said, adding that it does help her staff if voters don't wait until the deadline before casting a ballot.
    "Each ballot envelope has to go through this process whether you turned it in two weeks ago or election evening," she said.
    Under a contract with the company, the county used a similar machine to test its potential in the May primary, and found it worked well, she said.
    "We haven't purchased this machine," she said, noting that four other Oregon counties provided similar $100,000-plus machines had theirs paid for from federal Help American Vote Act funding.
    "The state is still sitting on quite a few HAVA funds," she said.
    "The sorter works like a big mail sorter at a mail processing facility," she said. "It reads the bar codes, takes a picture of the outer envelope and keys in on the signature."
    The bar code contains such information as the precinct number, she noted.
    The envelopes that pass the machine's test are then placed in "good" bins, she said.
    "That means there has been nothing that causes them to be rejected," she said.
    During a run of ballot envelopes on Monday, the lion's share of envelopes sailed through, but one popped into the bin marked "Wrong Ballot." It means the person voted on an inactive ballot, likely because of registration changes, she explained.
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