DARKE COUNTY — Fix or replace? This is a question people face daily when dealing with busted TVs, broken home appliances, failing vehicles, and the like. The same question must be answered by the Darke County Board of Elections on the future of its voting equipment, and soon.
Ideally, Darke County Board of Elections Director Luke Burton hopes the county will see its aging voting machines replaced, and preferably before voters go to the polls in 2020’s presidential election.
“I am genuinely concerned if we do not get upgraded equipment ahead of the 2020 presidential election,” said Burton. “Products like duct tape, contact cement, and superglue have been used for minor repairs each year to keep the equipment going for another election cycle. Sending a voting machine out of my office held together with tape and glue is not a great feeling.”
Burton says the county’s current voting machine, the Diebold TSX, has been in service in Darke County for 12 years. He estimates approximately a quarter of the county’s 240 voting machines have undergone repairs or are no longer operable. A number of these sit in the county’s equipment “graveyard,” where irredeemably broken machines have been salvaged for parts.
“When I was originally hired with the board of elections, a large portion of my job included maintenance of voting equipment,” said Burton. “I continue to provide the service to this equipment. It becomes more challenging with each election to keep them functioning properly.”
“I want to stress that we are not having software or tabulation issues. The main issue all counties using this equipment face is the physical health of the devices. Replacement parts are simply not available in a cost effective way. There have been a few cases where a county has upgraded to a new system and gave or sold their old equipment on a first-come, first-serve basis. New old stock of parts become available with a couple of our vendors, but the price of these parts make them unattainable with our budget,” he added.
Help may be on the way, if legislators heed the advice of Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.
On December 14, Husted urged the Kasich Administration and Ohio General Assembly to include, as part of the upcoming capital appropriations bill, funding to cover the full replacement of Ohio’s aging voting machines. The majority of Ohio’s current voting equipment was purchased more than a decade ago using one-time federal funds made available through the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).
“It is time for the state’s leaders to step forward and approve a funding plan to replace Ohio’s aging voting technology,” said Husted. “Any plan must ensure that updated voting systems are implemented in advance of the 2019 general election so that elections officials and voters alike are not using new voting equipment for the first time in the 2020 presidential election cycle.”
In a letter sent to Gov. Kasich, Ohio Budget Director Timothy S. Keen, and leaders of the four legislative caucuses, Secretary Husted expressed the importance of updating the state’s voting machines in time for the 2020 presidential election.
“The last time Ohio replaced its voting machines the iPhone hadn’t been released, people still rented movies from Blockbuster, and social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat didn’t exist,” Husted said. “It’s time to make updating our voting equipment a priority.”
The Department of Administrative (DAS) has already started exploring costs associated with the implementation of a new system. Based on that research, estimates for a statewide acquisition of new voting equipment is approximately $118 million.
Burton says the future of voting equipment has been a big topic among elections officials for a while now.
“Over the past two years the Ohio Association of Election Officials (OAEO) has been working with the County Commissioners’ Association of Ohio (CCAO) to start a dialogue about the future of our equipment. It will be a significant cost for the county to replace our machines on their own,” he said.
“Earlier this year the Department of Administrative Services (DAS) took bids from five voting equipment vendors who had voting equipment which is certified or in the process of certification in Ohio. Using those bids I estimated the replacement of Darke County’s voting equipment would cost between $700,000 and $1,500,000.”
“Without significant state funding we will simply not be able to upgrade our equipment. I have been keeping the county commissioners informed on the health of our equipment and potential cost of buying a new system,” Burton said.
The director has been looking ahead for if, and when, funding for new machines does become a reality.
“I have been in constant contact with vendors viewing demonstrations of the next generation of voting equipment,” Burton explained. “At this year’s Great Darke County Fair, I invited one of the vendors to set up their new voting machine for the fair board member election. Doing real world research like this will help myself and the elections board make the most informed decision when we do purchase new equipment.”
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