Vernon Kemp, elections systems specialist with the Beaufort County elections board, explains to Sun City resident Barbara Pecknay how the ExpressVote ballot marking device – the voting machine – marks her test ballot. She can review her choices in the mac

Sometimes a little hands-on experience is better than a lot of explanations.

That was the case for Sun City resident Barbara Pecknay, who thought attending Beaufort County’s elections community forum was a good idea.

“I’m glad I came because I wouldn’t know how to do this,” Pecknay said.

She was one of several people who tried out the new voting machines that were initially placed in operation for the November 2019 school referendum. They will be in use for all upcoming primaries and general elections.

Marie Smalls, director of the Board of Voter Registration and Elections of Beaufort County, said the new machines are similar to the previous ones, but “There’s just a new flair to it.”

For those residents who did not vote then or who have just moved to Beaufort County, the forum was an opportunity to see the technology and gather voting information.

Readers can see how it works by watching the video at

ExpressVote is the ballot marking device (BMD). Once voters have checked in with their photo ID, a floor worker will escort them to the one of the stand-alone machines, ensure the equipment is ready and then move on to the next voter.

If there is a challenge with the machine or the process, the floor worker will return to assist. An instruction panel on the voting machine shows how to use the machine.

Each voter is issued a blank ballot – a thermal activation card that will start the voting process when the voter slips it into the ExpressVote. After inserting the card into the machine, voters can then begin to make their selections on the touch screen monitor.

When they are finished, voters can review their selections and then touch the “print” button or go back and recast any of their votes. When finished, ExpressVote will print the selections and the voter has one more chance to review their choices before slipping the ballot into the Ballot Scanner (DS200). The scanner tabulates the votes and then feeds the ballot into a locked box within the DS200.

The saved ballots are used to verify and audit the election results.

If perchance the voter feels they made a mistake after reviewing the printed ballot, they get one more chance to vote and the floor worker will bring them a new activation card.

“Floor workers can issue one additional ballot and the workers will spoil the first ballot,” Smalls said. “They cannot tear it up, but it will be placed in an envelope and returned to the office. The spoiled ballot has to be accounted for but it will not be counted.”

Smalls has to ensure that all of 526 ExpressVote machines and 97 scanners that will be in use are ready for voters, as well as additional ADA devices that include audio devices for the sight-impaired as well as a headphone jack, a port for a Sip-and-Puff device or two-position rocker switch, and an Audio-Tactile Keypad.

“I’m the one who’s responsible for making sure that the elections in Beaufort are fair for everyone who would like to participate in the process,” Smalls said.

With the amount of information available on both the Beaufort County and South Carolina Votes websites, there is – as the state promotes – “No Excuse” not to vote.

If you haven’t already registered, you will be unable to vote in the upcoming Democratic Presidential Preference Primary Feb. 29, but there is still plenty of time to register for the statewide primary June 9 and the general election Nov. 3.

The June primary includes a number of federal, state and county offices that will be on the ballot.

Not everyone can make it to the polls on election day, whether it is the usual Tuesday or primary Saturday. In that case, voters can apply through their local election board offices for an absentee ballot. Accepted reasons for being unavailable to vote on election day range from disabilities, employment, being age 65 or older, overseas or on vacation.

Those prospective voters who will be age 18 before Nov. 3 may also register to vote beginning with the June primaries. Registration for the general elections is open until Aug. 17.

To register to vote, go to the Bluffton office at 61B Ulmer Road Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Feb. 28, and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 to 4 p.m. March 2-31. For more information, call 843-255-6940.

The Beaufort office at 15 John Galt Road is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, call 843-255-6900.

To request an absentee ballot, email absentee@BeaufortCountySC.Gov. For other election information, visit

Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.