There’s a new toy at Tower Road with plenty of assembly required.
It’s got more bells and whistles than Hammacher Schlemmer’s Robby the Robot, and costs about, oh, ten times as much. Truth be told, it probably has more brains than Robby, too.
Thirty eight feet long and weighing more than 3,700 pounds, it’s a lean, mean, mail ballot processing and sorting machine! Requiring at least a week and a team of experts to get set up in the Elections Office warehouse, the Pitney Bowes Relia-Vote system is not your grandma’s mail machine.
As more voters choose to Vote by Mail, our Elections brains are banking that this will be a worthwhile investment to save money, prevent errors and speed up processing time. And speedy it is: the Olympus II single-tier sorter, which is part of the Relia-Vote system, can process 24,000 mail ballot envelopes in an hour.
“If we have 80,000 pieces returned, we’ll be done Jack Flash,” said Narda Garcia, a supervisor in the Elections Office who is overseeing the implementation of the machine. “This was a process that was an extremely laborious process. We had all hands on deck.”
Now, far fewer hands will be needed, as the Olympus II will automatically sort tens of thousands of mail ballot envelopes by precinct to ready them for vote counting, and siphon out envelopes that have been marked as containing a spoiled ballot.
All of these processes have been done by hand, which means a lot of money spent on overtime and hiring extra help, and a greater chance of errors. The Elections Office estimates that the machine will save it $675,000 over the next five years.
“We’re hoping that the automated precinct sort will cut down on time and effort,” Garcia said.
In time for February’s presidential primary, the machine will also capture a digital image of a voter’s signature on their mail ballot envelope and bring it up alongside the voter’s signature from their voter registration card. The set-up will allow Elections folk to verify up to four voter signatures at a time on one screen, saving hours of work. Currently this process is done manually, one envelope at a time.
Relia-Vote will not count ballots, which is an entirely separate process. Once ballot envelopes are handily sorted by precinct, it makes it a whole lot easier for Elections folk to take those ballot envelopes to be opened and counted elsewhere as Election Day nears.
The set-up continues through this week and next; we’re looking forward to some speedy, error-free ballot envelope processing soon!