A new ballot-counting system, unveiled in time for Deschutes County’s Tuesday special election, is expected to make the vote-tallying process quicker and more transparent.

The $150,000 software-base system, called ClearVote, converts the ballots into electronic versions and inspects which ballots need to be reviewed further by election workers. The workers can then quickly check the challenged ballots on a computer screen to confirm the voter’s intent.

Before, election workers had to physically handle every ballot, putting a stamp on the back and initialing both sides, said Deschutes County Clerk Nancy Blankenship.

“You can go through a lot of ballots in minutes, where it would have taken hours,” Blankenship said.

During the last election, in November, dozens of election workers stayed until 10:30 a.m. the following morning physically checking the ballots. In contrast, election workers in Jackson County, which uses the ClearVote system and had 10,000 more ballots than Deschutes County, were home by 1:30 a.m., Blankenship said.

Blankenship said the ClearVote system should prevent a repeat of November’s marathon counting.

“Twenty-two hours is a long time, and we can cut that in half with fewer people,” she said.

For Tuesday’s election, Blankenship said she will only need about 15 workers, instead of the 25 or more needed in previous elections.

“You are saving a lot of manpower, a lot of staff power, with not having to do each and every ballot,” Blankenship said. “Once the ballots get scanned, we go on the computer and evaluate the voter’s intent for the ballots that are questionable.”

The election workers, who are paid minimum wage for their time, still need to take each ballot out of its envelope and organize them in batches. Each worker usually organizes up to about 200 ballots an hour. Some have been helping out at every election for decades.

Sue Fuller, of Bend, was one of the election workers busy Friday organizing the incoming ballots. Fuller remembers when her mother volunteered during elections at a polling station in Tumalo. Over the years, Fuller has grown accustomed to long days and nights counting ballots, but this election has been a different experience with fewer workers needed, she said.

“It’s changed,” Fuller said. “It’s streamlined so there are not as many active bodies working on it.”

Since the new digital system scans each ballot, it allows easier access to review the ballots. That is important in the case of a possible audit or result challenge, Blankenship said.

“You can still go back and look at each and every ballot if you want,” Blankenship said. “The ability to review all the ballots makes the process much more open and transparent to the public.”

ClearVote technology is already being used across Oregon in Josephine, Multnomah, Harney, Lane, Linn, Klamath, Coos and Washington counties.

Blankenship is excited to see how much smoother election night goes with the new system.

“Our goal is to be out of here by midnight,” she said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7820, kspurr@bendbulletin.com