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electionlineWeekly — April 25, 2013

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I. In Focus This Week

More than a decade after HAVA, it’s time to go shopping
Counties and states begin purchasing new voting equipment

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Electionline.org

It’s been more than a decade since the implementation of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), which required states and counties to update their elections systems.

The law, which was in response to the disastrous 2000 election in Florida, gave states until 2006 to comply with the voting system requirement. Although some weren’t happy about it and still remain opposed to the new DRE or optical-scan systems, all states were finally compliant by the 2010 mid-term elections.

Now, with some of those post-HAVA voting systems starting to show their age, and other jurisdictions wishing to make the switch from DRE to optical-scan, counties and states are back in the market for new voting equipment.

Pittslyvania County, Va., which has been using Unilect Patriot DRE machines since 2005, is shopping for new equipment in advance of the 2014 mid-term elections.

“They are aging, [we had] problems in the field on Election Day and we have had problems with people either saying they didn’t get a certain ballot or it was not there,” explained Jenny Lee Sanders, general registrar. “The terms of lease/purchase agreements are very good at this particular time.”

When shopping for new voting equipment, Sanders said that she was looking for ease of use for voters and simple preparation for the registrar and staff.

Sanders anticipates spending $355-400,000 dollars on the new voting system. Although the money is not currently in the budget for 2013, it is in the budget for FY2014 and Sanders will make the purchase after the new fiscal year begins this summer.

The county is moving to ES&S 200 machines that it is currently using in one precinct for the June Primary. Sanders said so far voters have been very approving of the news system.

In Maryland, all jurisdictions in the state have been using (Diebold/Premier AccuVote TS), which were phased in beginning in 2002 and fully in place by 2006.

Ross Goldstein, deputy administrator for the Maryland State Board of Elections, said the decision to implement a new system was primarily motivated by the desire to have a voter-verifiable paper record as part of the voting process.

While HAVA requires all states to use voting systems that provide a way for voters to verify their vote, some states have gone further to dictate specifics. Maryland state law now mandates an optical-scan voting system.

“Maryland law is very specific about the type of equipment that must be procured.  As such, there is no choice regarding the type of system for either the state or local boards of election,” Goldstein said.

Goldstein noted that although the state dictates the decision, the counties will be involved in the procurement process and in all aspects of the planning and implementation of the new system.

The law requiring Maryland to move to the optical-scan system was approved in 2007, but funding was not made available until this year. Goldstein said the board has received initial funding to begin planning for the procurement. It is estimated that the purchase to the equipment and necessary supplies will cost $35 million.

Voters are not always that open or comfortable with change and that’s why Goldstein says voter education about the new optical-scan system will be so important.

“We definitely view voter education as a critical component of implementing a new system and plan to conduct as large of a education program that our budget will permit,” Goldstein said.

Hamilton County, Tenn. was HAVA compliant before HAVA even existed when it purchased the Diebold Accu-Vote system back in 1998. But being so far ahead of the curve means that the voting machines in Hamilton have seen better days.

Elections Administrator Charlotte Mullis said that fifteen years after the initial purchase, the machines are simply wearing out.

Being an early adopter has helped the county in another way. HAVA provided federal funds for states and counties to purchase new voting systems and become compliant with other aspects of the legislation.

To date, many of those states and counties have used all that federal funding and now must find money elsewhere to cover the cost of new equipment.

Since Hamilton County purchased HAVA-compliant equipment before the funds were available, the county will be able to use those funds for this purchase.

The new system will be very expensive, but HAVA money hopefully will take care of buying new equipment,” Mullis said.

Although no decisions have been made yet about what systems to purchase, Mullis said the county is looking for a similar system so that voters will be able to adapt quickly and comfortably.

“We always put the voter first and foremost,” Mullis said.

The county hopes to have the new system in place by this fall.