Voting in Anne Arundel County is going high-tech this year.
The county has abandoned the 1950s-era mechanical voting machines for a computerized optically scanned system that officials say makes voting simpler and tabulation faster and more accurate.
An additional asset of the new system is its ability to retabulate votes cast for individual candidates. The old system could recount only the total number of votes cast.
According to Barbara Fisher, deputy administrator for the county election board, the new Optech II voting system will make its debut in the county Tuesday during the primary elections, and will be in use again for the Nov. 6 general election. The county is leasing the equipment for use at its 133 voting precincts at a cost of $175,000 annually.
Gone are the days of pulling levers behind closed curtains. With the new system, voters will check in at the precinct table by giving their name and address and receive a voter's authority card, secrecy envelope and a paper ballot. The voters will proceed to a private voting booth, complete their ballots with a special marker, place them in the envelopes and take them to precinct workers.
Workers will verify that the returned ballots are the ones issued by matching numerical tags, and voters will then deposit their ballots in the voting machine, where it will be optically scanned and stored.
Officials said ballots will be rejected for two reasons: If the voter chooses more candidates than allowed by law or if the ballot is blank. In such cases, voters will have two more chances to fill out the ballot correctly.
At the close of the polls, each precinct's chief election judge will lock the Optech II voting machine and have it print out the precinct totals.
In recent weeks, the Board of Supervisors of Elections has offered numerous demonstrations of the new voting system in an effort to educate the public.
Albert Byron, the chief elections judge of one of the precincts, has been conducting demonstrations of Optech II at senior citizens centers, Annapolis Mall and other locations.
Optech II is no stranger to Maryland. According to Howard County election official Barbara Feaga, Optech II was used successfully for the 1988 primary and general elections.