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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Balloting Machines Get Trial Run in Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG -- What's bigger than a bread box, looks like a washing machine and could play a decisive role in the presidential race?

The answer is a new light-activated voting machine which received a trial run in several St. Petersburg suburbs in the city's gubernatorial poll Sunday.

"This is fantastic!" said pensioner Natalya Kuzmicha, after carefully sliding her ballot into the slot atop the voting machine in Lomonosov. "This will make voting easier and there will be less chance for mistakes."

Designed by the local LOMO optics factory, prototype voting machines underwent their first test in 45 polling stations in the suburbs of Lomonosov, Pavlovsk, Kronshtadt and Sestroretsk.

After checking off their gubernatorial choice, voters awaited the green go-ahead light and then let their ballot disappear into the machine, where an optical scanner would read and record the result. If the ballot was placed incorrectly, a second red light lit up and the paper was spit back out.

Although the machines produced print-outs of the results, this was just a test run. Only a subsequent hand count carried any legal weight.

Should the Moscow-based Central Election Commission deem the test successful, the plan is to use the machines throughout St. Petersburg and Moscow for the presidential race. According to LOMO chief designer Boris Utenkov, the company is banking on an order for 100,000 machines.

The machines can handle ballots for up to nine elections (national, regional, local, referendum) simultaneously. However, they only read ballots that carry names for up to 28 candidates.

Although enthusiastic at first, election commission members were a bit more skeptical when all was said and done. Nina Semyonova, secretary at the Lomonosov electoral commission, said a lot of effort went into checking the hand count result with the printout. "If there were discrepancies, we had to find out why," she said.

In one polling station, there were about 10 discrepancies, affecting 1 percent of the roughly 1,000 ballots cast.