New Voting Machines Discussed

On Monday, Saline County Commissioners heard further details about purchasing new voting machines, perhaps in time for the August primary.

When licensing fees and maintenance agreements are considered, the total purchase price hovers around $750,000, which is reduced by an “equipment trade in” of over $150,000.

Under consideration is a system that includes touch screens where voters can create an electronic ballot, and then a paper ballot is printed showing how they voted. Individuals wishing to vote on paper ballots can do so. Both types of ballots are then scanned and counted. The County would retain the paper ballots in case there was a dispute.

Last week, the Commissioners heard from Brad Bryant, with Atkins company, and learned that leasing for five years would have approximately the same cost of buying the equipment outright with a “no interest” four year payment plan from the company.

County Clerk Don Merriman said he’d looked at other voting machines from ESS and they were “a lot higher”; in a previous meeting, he had said the competitor’s prices were $200,000 higher. A third competitor’s equipment has yet to be certified by the Secretary of State’s office.

Commissioner Dave Smith questioned the need to replace the machines and the 3/4 million dollar price tag. Merriman said the equipment was ten years old and at the end of its expected life. He said “The booths are falling apart”, noting that they get moved around, and despite efforts to be careful with them, there is wear and tear.

Merriman said, “Coming into the Presidential election”, he “wants to make sure” the County “has a system we can have confidence in.” Since the model that was demonstrated earlier in May is in stock, Merriman said “our hope” is to be able to use the new machines to train election officials “for the primary”.

Merriman anticipates having 33 polling places for the 2016 election. In 2014, there were 42 polling places; when he began working for the County, there were 46 polling places. One option Merriman considered was having one polling place for the County—perhaps at the Bi-Centennial Center.

Spirited discussions followed.

Smith again asked if this was the cheapest “way to get it done”. Merriman said he did not know of a less expensive alternative.

Commissioner John Price said the Commission “might ought to wait four more years” before making a decision, citing that for a few years, a new phone system was considered for the City-County Building. By waiting, the County has saved money and as Price said, “the phones still operate”. Price questioned if future Legislatures might implement new requirements for voting machines.

Contracts have already been reviewed by County Counselor Mike Montoya. Commissioners discussed the possibility of voting on this matter in  Tuesday’s Open Forum (11:00 AM, Room 107, City-County Building).