County finds few options for voting machines
Provo DAILY HERALD Amie Rose 27 April 2005
A Utah County study has found only one of four possible alternatives to direct-recording electronic voting machines meets federal voting standards but the county's quest to find a cheaper voting system continues.
If the county can't find an alternative to the state's plan to replace its punchcard fleet, taxpayers will get the bill for new machines in its
"It would require a huge tax increase in the county," said Commissioner Steve White.
County commissioners asked county Clerk-Auditor Kim Jackson to research alternatives earlier this year. His report, released Tuesday, showed only the optical scan system with ballot marking devices for the disabled called AutoMARK complied with the federal Help America Vote Act. But it costs more than the direct-recording electronic machines.
AutoMARK machines are between $5,000 and $5,500 a piece, while DRE systems are $3,000 to $3,500 each. Both systems are being considered by the state, which will make a decision on the replacement machines in the next few months.
Commissioners asked Jackson on Tuesday to continue working on the issue. He is going to research more voting systems; determine if the county could get any federal funding for new voting machines if it doesn't totally replace its punchcard machines with an electronic or optical scan system; and do more research on the one optical scan system that meets federal standards.
Utah County isn't the only county worried about the costs of replacing voting equipment, but it's the only one that's already tasked its county clerk to look into options, said Brent Gardner, executive director of the Utah Association of Counties.
"I think everybody's on hold waiting to see what the lieutenant governor is going to do, in terms of purchasing which type of equipment," he said.
Once that happens, more counties will join Utah County and take a "hard look" at voting equipment, Gardner said.
Jackson's report found punchcard and optical scan systems with tactile or Braille ballots and open voting consortium software don't meet federal standards for providing access to the disabled. The open consortium software may meet the standards, but not enough work has been done on it and it hasn't been used anywhere yet.
The number of voting precincts in Utah County increases every year there were 207 in 2000 and now there are 269 and the number of voting machines required to meet the need goes up, too, Jackson said.
White estimates the county needs to buy 100 additional machines every year to accommodate new voters.
One alternative could be adding one electronic or optical scan machine to each polling place, and keeping the punchcard machines for non-disabled voters. That would mean buying 125 machines, plus a few extras in case of a breakdown.
"One per polling place is a much better option in my opinion," White said.
The county started looking for alternatives after the state announced it wanted to replace all punchcard voting machines because the state doesn't have enough federal funding to pay for all the replacements. The additional costs will trickle down to counties.
Jackson said the state won't know how much money is available to counties or if counties that don't replace all punchcard machines will be eligible for any funding until a system is chosen.
Utah County Commissioner Jerry Grover said he's not counting on any money.
"It's not enough to go around," he said.
Utah's plan for election reform, approved in 2003, calls for the total replacement of punchcard systems by Jan. 1, 2006.
The state will choose an optical scan or direct-recording electronic voting system from machines offered by Diebold and Election Systems & Software. The state's Election Equipment Selection Committee held its last public hearing on the machines Thursday, and will make a recommendation within the next few months. Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert will make a decision on the recommendation.
AutoMARK with central counters
One time cost to county $1,552,409
Total per election cost $524,579
Total annual cost $713,425
AutoMARK with precinct counters
One-time cost to county $2,105,643
Total per election cost $529,539
Total annual cost $783,815
Full DRE implementation
One-time cost $7,677,328
Total per election cost $409,719
Total annual cost $1,314,860
One DRE per polling place
One-time cost $1,140,059
Total per election $533,559
Total annual cost $671,098