By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
When voters show up at the polls next May, they will likely be casting their ballots on new voting machines.
Those new voting machines could cost up to $2.2 million – with the state picking up $1.3 million of the bill. That may sound like a lot, but it’s about half of the estimated cost of $4.2 million for the voting machines in 2017.
“We were hoping it would come in lower,” and it did, said Terry Burton, assistant director of the Wood County Board of Elections. “We are continuing to try to figure out ways to get this number lower.”
The voting machine package got the approval of the Wood County Commissioners on Thursday. The cost not picked up by the state will come out of the county’s general fund.
The county needs an estimated 525 voting machines. They will replace the county’s 12-year old touchscreen systems. The previous ballot stations lasted 40 years, and their predecessors were the first voting systems in Wood County.
“Our life expectancy is decreasing,” as technology increases, said Carol DeJong, director of the Wood County Board of Elections.
The county may lease these new systems, which would cost an additional $139,000 a year and guarantee modifications as the technology changes, Burton and DeJong explained.
“It’s when,” not if upgrades will be needed, DeJong said.
The goal is to have the new voting machines in place by May, so the county has two elections to work out any bugs before the presidential election year.
The systems will be leased or purchased from Dominion Voting Systems, headquartered in Denver.
The board of elections is continuing to look at voting precincts that can be combined into “voting centers.” In Bowling Green, for example, several precincts share voting locations at the Wood County District Public Library and St. Mark’s Lutheran Church.
There are some voting locations in the more rural areas of southeastern Wood County where the buildings didn’t “pass muster” for ADA accessibility by the state, DeJong said.
In the November election, the county had 52 voting centers. The board of elections is looking at decreasing that to 45 in the future. That would not only require fewer voting machines, but also fewer poll workers.
“We struggle every election to find 400 people countywide” to staff the polls, Burton said.
Currently, there are 15 single precinct locations in the county. Some of those may be absorbed by other sites.
“The rural areas are going to feel it a little more because of the miles,” Burton said earlier this year.
The new voting machines will be tablets, and will work the same as the systems local voters are accustomed to using, DeJong said. They will also continue to have paper backup, as required by the state. However, instead of the current “cashier” type paper backup, the new ones will also have an embedded scanner to backup the paper, she said.
The funding for the voting machines comes as the current systems get closer and closer to being obsolete.
“In the grand scheme of things, when you’re talking about technology,” the systems are almost antiques – though Burton credits the local board of elections staff with babying the systems to keep them functioning well.
Wood County’s 12-year-old touchscreen systems are faring better than voting machines in some counties, where spare parts have been scrounged up from Tractor Supply stores or paper clip stashes.
“Every election, we see a little bit more wear and tear,” Burton said. “It’s time.”
Senate Bill 135 set aside $114.5 million for new voting machines in Ohio. Based on the number of registered voters and size of the county, Wood County’s share is $1.3 million. The funding is intended to replace all the voting machines in the state – as long as county boards of election are satisfied with the “Chevrolets” and not the “Cadillacs” of voting machines.
Wood County Board of Elections doesn’t want the “Cadillac” of voting systems, but it doesn’t want the “Chevrolet” either, Burton said earlier this year.
“We’re looking for the SUV,” he said. “We’re looking for a system that’s hardy.”
All of the voting machines must be converted over at once, since the old and the new systems “won’t even talk to each other.”