The clock is ticking down to the next election, be it a possible primary in August or the general election in November. There is also a chance of a special election prior to that.
So, the Barton County Commission Monday morning approved purchasing new voting equipment from Omaha, Neb.-based Election Systems and Software at a cost of $183,000. The system will replace the county’s aging fleet of voting machines and make a move back to using paper ballots.
“This is a huge expense for the county,” Commissioner Jennifer Schartz said. “But, we really don’t have any choice.”
The current voting system is 12 years old and beginning to show wear. It should be replaced before the equipment becomes unreliable, said Donna Zimmerman, county clerk and election officer. Furthermore, under the Help America Vote Act, all Kansas voting systems must include electronic devices that enable an impaired voter to vote unassisted.
“We’ve been working on this project for three years,” Zimmerman said. There have been vendor demonstrations, the most recent in early February, when Clerk’s Office personnel, other county officials and volunteer poll workers viewed various products.
To meet HAVA requirements and to best serve the needs of all voters, Zimmerman and her staff suggested Election Systems and Software, the company that provides the county’s current voting machines.
The cost includes precinct scanners, electronic ballot marking devices, barcode scanners, encoders, hardened results computer and memory.
“This is a hybrid system,” Zimmerman said. Voters will have the option to cast an electronic or paper ballots.
If someone casts an electronic ballot, a paper copy will be printed for scanning. But, if someone wants a paper ballot, they can fill one out and submit that and it will be scanned.
Either way, there will be paper ballots created that can be counted as many times as needed.
It wasn’t the cheapest product they looked at. Over the course of it’s 10-year life expectance, the cost would be over $319,000 including ballots and maintenance, $6,000 higher than runner-up Blue Bell, Penn.-based Unisys.
But, “we much preferred the ES&S system,” Zimmerman said of her and her staff.
Zimmerman’s office has studied this issue since the current system turned 10 years old. That was in 2016 when replacement parts started becoming hard to find.
The department has already deployed 17 KnowInk Poll Pads to help streamline the election process. Use of the pads decreases staff time and supply costs, while improving the check-in process at polling places.
These take the place of paper poll books. But, are not to be confused with electronic voting machines and have nothing to do with casting ballots.
An election upgrade
The county will be replacing its aging electronic voting equipment. The Barton County Election Office put its 89 iVotronics machines (which cost about $2,500 each for a total of about $300,000) into service in 2006.
However, there were Help America Vote Act Endowment funds at that time which covered 90 percent of the county’s costs. That federal money will not be available this time, Zimmerman said.
“This time, it’s on our nickle,” Zimmerman said. This is what in large part prompted the office to consolidate polling stations, a change that went into effect for the first time last November.
The county went from 21 boards overseeing polling at 23 sites countywide to nine boards and 11 locations. “This will mean fewer locations and less equipment,” making the conversion less expensive, she said.
It isn’t just Barton County, Zimmerman said. Every county in Kansas switched in 2006 with HAVA funding, and now at least 40 counties are considering replacing their voting machinery.
But, “we’ve been anticipating this purchase,” Zimmerman said. She has been setting money aside in the equipment replacement fund.
There is one wildcard, Kansas Senate Bill 129 which would allow voters to vote at any polling place within a county. Although currently inactive, there is a chance it could resurface this session.
Why is this an issue?
The electronic scanners can be programmed to accommodate voters from across the county, but the paper ballots are only good in their precinct. So, if the becomes law, Zimmerman may need to buy more electronic ballot scanners.
Barton County Commission meeting at a glance:
Here is a quick look at what the Barton County Commission did Monday morning:
• Approved the purchase of new voting equipment at a cost of $183,000 from Omaha, Neb.-based Election Systems and Software.
• Approved the annual Computer Information Concepts Inc. peopleware agreement at a cost of $47,540. In 2013, the county purchased a commercial software package from CIC. The software includes tax administration, budgetary/fund accounting, indexing/imaging, payroll/personnel and time/attendance. The annual agreement provides updates for the software and hardware, including response time for customer support. County Administrator Phil Hathcock said the expense is factored into the county’s budget.