New voting machines come with hefty price tags

Voters cast ballots at Wood County District Public Library last year.

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN

BG Independent News

 

When Wood County got its first touchscreen voting machines, many people feared they were too old-fashioned to keep up with the new voting technology.

But now, after 11 years of elections, it’s the voting machines themselves that are considered obsolete.

Across Ohio, county boards of elections are facing the challenge of replacing their aging voting machines with newer, expensive technology. The price tag to replace Wood County’s touchscreen voting stations is between $3.8 and $4.2 million.

Counties and election boards have been working with the state legislature and secretary of state to get help footing the bill.

“This is a great need across the state,” said Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar. “The implications statewide and nationally are incredible.”

Wood County Board of Elections Director Terry Burton presented the news to the county commissioners on Tuesday.

“He told us the end is in sight and we need to prepare,” Kalmar said.

The first touchscreen voting machines were purchased as part of the Help America Vote Act after the infamous “hanging chad” drama in Florida in the 2000 presidential election. The electronic touchscreen systems were purchased to prevent the uncertainty of punchcard voting.

The initial touchscreen units cost $1.2 million – with federal funds paying for at least 80 percent of the price, Kalmar said.

Kalmar is banking on the legislature helping this time around.

The topic has been before the state for a while. “That has been the discussion for the last two years,” Burton said.

Heavy duty lobbying is underway to get some money out of the state’s next budget cycle, he said.

“Everybody’s equipment is aging out,” Burton said. “We’re not in this alone. We need to lobby the state like heck.”

The goal is to roll out the new systems in the May primary in 2019. “That way it’s not a primary election for governor or president,” Kalmar said.

Wood County officials are also hoping the next updated systems will function similarly to the current ones. “Now people know what to do,” Kalmar said.

Burton agreed.

“The voters seem very comfortable with it. Our goal is to mimic the system we have now,” he said.

Kalmar praised the board of elections for making the current touchscreen systems last as long as they have.

“Our board of elections has been very vigilant in maintaining the equipment they have and keeping it in good working order.”

Burton said the Wood County elections office has been able to swap out parts from surplus machines to keep enough units running.

The local touchscreen systems are functioning well enough to keep them in use, Burton added, but “we want to transition over when state money becomes available. We want to take advantage of that.”

Wood County Board of Elections has 620 electronic touchscreen units, though just 480 are put in use for elections. About 100 were received through a Cuyahoga County elections lawsuit settlement. The county has asked for 508 new ones.

Burton hopes the estimated cost around $4 million is more than the actual cost. “I’m hoping this is the high end,” he said.

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