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New Luzerne County ballot sorting system explained

Luzerne County is spending almost a half-million dollars on a ballot sorting system. The manufacturer's CEO details the machine's features and potential benefits.

LUZERNE COUNTY, Pa. — It's not going to count the votes, but elections officials say a new ballot sorting system will streamline ballot processing across Luzerne County. 

It comes with a hefty price tag, and we had a lot of questions, so we went right to the maker.

Luzerne County Council approved the purchase of the new system, which elections officials said will speed up their processes and get voters results faster, as mail-in voting figures to play a key role in future elections.

"With the pandemic, a lot of people got exposed to that," said Jeff Ellington, CEO of Runbeck Election Services. "A lot of states are continuing down that process because it is more convenient for the voter."

Ellington is the president and CEO of Runbeck Election Services in Arizona, the company that manufactures the Agilis Ballot Sorting System. The $315,000 machine can separate the ballots by precinct, scanning each ballot envelope as it passes through.

"What happens is, it reads the barcode, takes a picture of the envelope, and also takes a picture of the signature on the envelope," Ellington said. "Then, elections officials don't have to have trays of mail all over their office. They can just simply electronically view the signature they have on file for that voter and the signature they have on the envelope."

Ellington said elections officials can normally verify 60 signatures an hour, but the Agilis allows them to complete 300 to 500. The system also helps weed out any anomalies, alerting election officials to potential red flags.

"Make sure that that envelope is the right thickness, so one ballot per voter," he said. "It's the right dimensions, so the water bills aren't mixed in, or some other piece of mail is not mixed in. Make sure that that ballot is for that elector and that envelope is for that election."

The system does not tally votes or remove any ballots from envelopes, but it does take a lot of the sorting work out of elections officials' hands, helping them keep tabs on where the ballots end up and which ballots need to be reviewed.

"Things get kind of lost in the shuffle, occasionally," Ellington said. "With this, it kind of gives that tracking, that integrity of knowing that piece showed up at 7:09 a.m., it was signature verified at 9:10, and then it was processed and ready for tabulation at 5 o'clock that afternoon. That gives that integrity and that time stamp, so the counties and the voters have confidence in the system."

Ellington said the machine is transparent, so election officials and observers can clearly see the path the ballot envelopes take as the machine sorts. 

The entire interview with the Runbeck Elections CEO is available below.

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