‘On its last legs’: Why election boards are seeking new voting machines

Voting equipment in many Ohio counties, including Butler County, is becoming obsolete as replacement parts are more difficult to obtain and software continues to age.

State Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Hudson, said he knows of at least one county board of elections that has used parts from an auto supply store. He said replacing voting machines before the 2020 presidential election is vital to ensure votes are recorded and counted correctly.

“It’s just time to replace them,” he said. “This is the kind of thing that has to be done right.”

RELATED: New voting machines unlikely for Butler County before 2019 (August 2017)

LaRose, who is running for Ohio Secretary of State, said there is “widespread agreement that we need to replace voting machines” among those within the legislature. He introduced Senate Bill 135 last April, which has had one hearing in the Senate Finance Committee.

“It is time for the state’s leaders to step forward and approve a funding plan to replace Ohio’s aging voting technology,” Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted wrote in a Dec. 14, 2017 letter to Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

“Any plan must ensure that updated voting systems are implemented in time for 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.”

LaRose will amend his bill to include paying for new voting equipment for every county board of election, including training and maintenance contract costs. He said the bill would require the state to pay 100 percent for a “lowest cost option” — which is yet to be determined — and any costs above that cost would be covered by the county. County governments that have purchased new equipment would be reimbursed, LaRose said.

The state was working to pay for new voting equipment after the 2016 presidential election but was removed from the state budget. It was expected the state would pay between $115 million to $130 million for new machines after the 2016 election.

Butler County has around 1,600 voting machines. Several dozen are unusable, and around 50 need to be repaired after each election, according to the county elections office. An internal memo last year from the county elections office’s database administrator to the two directors said his confidence level with the current system “is decreasing” and the county has upgraded operating systems “at least three times since these machines were made.”

RELATED: What does 2018 hold for the political races of Butler County?

Jocelyn Bucaro, deputy director of the Butler County Board of Elections and president of the Ohio Association of Election Officials, said she is “very grateful and supportive” of the help by LaRose and others in the state to secure funding to replace the equipment that’s “on its last legs.”

“Counties are not able to afford the $118 million needed in new equipment,” she said.

Bucaro said she and elections office director Diane Noonan have reached out to the Butler County members of the general assembly, and they have been supportive of the initiative “and will continue to make the case over the next couple of months.”

She’s “cautiously optimistic” the state will provide funding.

“The state has to make choices with limited resources, like the rest of us, and we know that nothing is certain,” Bucaro said. “The need is there, and it’s not going away.”

The elections office attempted to secure funding from the county to pay for new voting machines for the 2018 election, but county leaders did not make the $3 million to $6 million it would take to replace Butler County’s voting machines available.

Butler County Commissioner T.C. Rogers said the county is “good” for the 2018 primary and gubernatorial elections, which features county commission and county auditor races, and three Statehouse races.

“But as far as the (2020) presidential election, we would like to have the new machines by then,” said Rogers, who said Butler County is “in much better shape” than other counties. “But our maintenance agreements cover us for that period. We are being told that the legislature will address this problem before the presidential election. Every election is important (just as) every vote is important, but again we feel our equipment will be able to do the job (at least for 2018).”

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