NEWBURYPORT — The city plans to buy new voting machines before the November election and officials say it will not bring much change to Newburyport’s already secure ballot casting system.

The city’s current Accuvote voting machines were purchased in 2007. City Clerk Richard Jones said that while the machines’ security and accuracy remain intact, they are beginning to show slight signs of age and are due for an upgrade.  

“You could tell they were getting a little old because they would jam,” said Jones. “They say the new ones won’t jam.”

The City Council appropriated $47,300 from the free cash account in the fiscal 2020 budget to buy a new set of Imagecast Precinct voting machines, which are made by Dominion Voting and will be purchased through LHS Associates, of Salem, New Hampshire. 

Jones said the money will be used to purchase eight machines — or nine, if the city becomes a central tabulation facility, which Jones said is unlikely. 

The council received an order during its Aug. 19 meeting that, if approved, would authorize the city to use the new machines in future elections. The order is currently in the council’s Committee on General Government.

When pressed about the security of the city’s current and future voting machines, especially given hacking concerns that arose in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, Jones emphasized that the city’s machines are safe because they are not connected to the internet.

“Security is a big concern, physically for the paper ballots and digital internet security, but the important concept is that we’re offline,” he said. “Systems that have been hacked are online.” He said that in terms of security, the new Imagecast machines will be similar to the Accuvote models.

“I would say they’re the same,” the clerk said. “They’re secure. On the machines that have been hacked, people have broken passcodes and gotten into them via the internet.”

According to an information sheet on the Imagecast Precinct models included in the City Council packet, the machines are certified according to the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines, which were adopted in 2005 by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to increase security requirements for voting systems.  According to the sheet, the machines feature the “highest security standards” and include “symmetric and asymmetric encryption while preserving transparency through end-to-end auditability.” 

The Dominion Voting website also states that the Imagecast Precinct machines are equipped with “high resolution scanning technology” and automatic detection of fraudulent ballots, among other features. 

Jones said that because the city uses a paper ballot system, all of the city’s votes are backed up physically, which would help if there is a problem with electronic tabulation of ballots.

The Accuvote machines will still be used during the upcoming Sept. 15 preliminary Ward 6 city council election, but if the City Council approves use of the Imagecast models, the new machines will be put to use for the first time during the Nov. 5 municipal election.

Because there is no mayoral race on the Newburyport ballot this year, Jones said he expects only about 30% of the city’s registered voters to show up at the polls, which will give poll workers good practice with the new machines before the much larger 2020 presidential election.

Next year, the city will hold a primary election in March, followed by a September preliminary election before the November presidential election, which will include a 10-day early voting period.

For more information on the Imagecast Precinct voting machines, visit: https://www.dominionvoting.com/products

Staff writer Jack Shea covers Newbury­port City Hall. He can be reached via email at jshea@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3154. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.

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