It’s the largest ballot in Kentucky’s history, and some Kentuckians will begin absentee voting today in the Nov. 7 local, state, judicial and federal elections.

Voters may encounter new voting locations and new voting technology — all part of a federal effort to ensure accessibility for handicapped voters.

Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson said Monday that none of the problems with new electronic, on-screen voting machines that have occurred in other states appeared in Kentucky during the spring primary, but those machines will be available for handicapped voters in all precincts. Most counties use a combination of previous technology and the new machines.

“I’m confident our machines are safe and verifiable,” Grayson said. “Our machines have the ability to provide an audit trail. They can recreate an image of the ballot.”

Grayson said all machines — of any make or variety — are to have been tested by each county board of elections by this time. The new machines are the result of the Help America Vote Act, which mandated machines to help handicapped voters, including audio prompts through headphones for visually impaired voters.

Pam Browning, Barren County clerk, likes the new machines and didn’t experience problems with them in the primary except for minor delays in combining vote totals from the Hart eSlate electronic machine and the older Hart 1242 machines.

“We didn’t have any problems with the eSlate machines,” she said. “Some of our voters who used it really liked it. It did take a little longer to total the votes when we combined totals from the two types of machines.”

There were complaints about the machines during the primary, mostly about the delay in reporting results but also allegations in a couple of eastern Kentucky counties about precinct workers not properly instructing voters on the new machines.

The new machines provide a summary of votes at the end, just before the voter records the votes. That allows voters to make sure they’ve voted in all the contests. But if the voter doesn’t then press the vote button, his ballot isn’t complete and others conceivably could alter votes after the voter leaves.

So long as the voter pushes the vote button, Grayson said, there is no more risk of fraud than on any other machine.

Grayson and State Board of Elections Executive Director Sarah Ball Johnson said the number of local elections is likely to increase absentee ballots and several counties are also seeing formal write-in campaigns. Those are more likely to produce delay than the new machines, they said.

Grayson urged voters to visit Web sites at http://sos.ky.gov/elections/ where they can find if they are properly registered and their assigned voter registration. They can also find sample ballots for their counties. Grayson suggested voters use a sample ballot to mark their choices before going to polling places and take it with them.

Browning said that will cut down on time at the polling booth. In Barren County, in addition to several contested local elections, state legislative races and a contest for the Second Congressional District, there are 15 seats on the Glasgow City Council ballot.

“Common sense tells you that will take more time,” and voters can reduce that time by being prepared, she said.

In-office absentee voting on machines at clerks’ offices must commence on Tuesday, although some larger counties have already begun. Campaign materials are legally banned from the building in which absentee voting occurs. On election day, all electioneering activites are banned within 300 feet from the door of polling places.

Grayson said he is estimating about 43 percent turnout because of the presence of local races on this year’s ballot. Still, if he’s right, that’s down from the last two mid-term federal election turnout totals of 47.5 percent and 47.8 percent. Grayson said those elections featured a U.S. Senate ace, however, something not on the ballot this time.

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