Beaufort County voters will have a new way to cast ballots in November.
New, paper-based voting machines will be used at all county precincts for the Nov. 5 school bond referendum and town council elections in Bluffton and Port Royal. The machines were expected to be in place statewide in 2020.
The county received the new equipment and decided to roll it out this fall, its top election official said.
“Beaufort County will get an opportunity to use the new system before the 2020 election,” said Marie Smalls, director of the county board of voter registration and elections. “We are confident that our voters will not have a whole lot of adjustment to using it.”
Voters will still use touch screens to make selections but will first insert a paper ballot. The ballot will be printed after selections are made and then inserted into a scanner to cast the ballot.
Ballots will be electronically archived and the paper copies locked away in the event of an audit. State election officials say the new system is easier and more secure.
Anyone with questions can call the county elections office at 843-255-6900. Election officials hope to have a demonstration machine available soon, Smalls said. Election officials have been demonstrating the new system throughout the community, she said. Instructional videos are available on the county and state elections websites, and poll workers are available to assist.
The deadline to register to vote in person is 5 p.m. Friday. Residents can register online or by email or fax by Saturday at midnight, and mailed registration must be postmarked by Sunday.
County residents will consider a $345 million school bond referendum that will appear on the ballot in two parts. The initial $291 million package must pass for the second list of projects to pass.
Projects include demolishing and rebuilding Robert Smalls International Academy, upgrading security at every district school, adding to May River High School and River Ridge Academy, and renovating and constructing projects at Beaufort Elementary School, Hilton Head Island Middle School and Battery Creek High School.
The second part includes renovations and career and technology centers at four high schools, and athletic and playground improvements throughout the district.
Port Royal residents will elect a new mayor and choose from three candidates for two open at-large seats on Town Council.
Joe DeVito is running for mayor against longtime council member Mary Beth Gray-Heyward. Jerry Ashmore and Robert Landrum are running to keep their seats on council and face a challenge from attorney Kevin Phillips.
In Bluffton, Bridgette Frazier will vie to replace one of the two incumbents, Harry Lutz and Dan Wood, for two open Town Council seats. Mayor Lisa Sulka is running unopposed for a fourth term.