County accepts new voting machines for elections
The question of which voting machine system to go with was discussed in the recent Emery County Commission meeting. There has been much talk as to which system is best since the voting debacle in Florida in the 2000 election. In 2002 the federal government mandated changes in the current voting system. The Help America Vote Act was established along with a funding package to help bring the states into compliance.
The lieutenant governor is the election official for the state of Utah. Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert has entered into an agreement with Diebold to provide voting equipment for the state of Utah.
The county was also given the option of upgrading the present system of voting, but it would be at the county's expense to come into compliance. County Clerk Bruce Funk spoke to the commission about his adamant opposition to changing the current mode of voting in the county. Voters vote a paper ballot which is tabulated by an optical scan voting machine. Funk said he has been active in elections since 1984 and has spent more time than anyone making sure the elections are accurate and that every vote counts.
Funk said he is uncomfortable with the human error factor of the computerized system. He likes the paper trail which exists with the paper ballot and doesn't see this same protection factor with the new machines. The tabulations can be printed out from the new machine which looks similar to a cash register tape where each vote can be recorded manually should a recount be needed.
Estimates range to about $5,000 per precinct for a machine for handicapped voters. This expense would be incurred by the county. The county must comply with the new regulations for handicapped voters.
The new Diebold machines comply with the standards for handicapped voters and no added expense would be incurred. The counties are responsible for their own upkeep on the new Diebold machines. The machines must also be stored in a controlled environment where they will not be exposed to severe temperature fluctuations. It is unknown at this time the exact costs of maintenance and storage.
Funk said he would support the commissioners if they went with the Diebold machine and if at any time he couldn't support them he would step aside.
Funk thinks the state has the counties over a barrel since they control the purse strings.
Commissioner Ira Hatch said it is the responsibility of the commission to act in the best interest of the citizens of Emery County. Surveys report that on election day there is approximately a 10 percent failure rate. With 40 machines in the county this would put four down on election day.
Currently a machine is being developed that can read the tape for a recount on the new machine. Funk is concerned with the procedure to be followed with a recount on the new machines.
Commissioner Gary Kofford said on the new Diebold machine that three computer chips record the vote. A voter can check to see if he has voted correctly before the vote is counted. If the ballot is undervoted or overvoted, the machine will not allow the vote to be cast.
Commissioner Kofford said a recount on the current voting machine is done by running the ballots through the machine again. According to Funk a recount doesn't have to be manually recounted.
Commissioner Kofford said to stay on the present system it would cost at least $50,000 for which the county is responsible. If the county chooses to go through Diebold the voting machines will be entirely funded except for operation and maintenance.
Each machine also has a five hour backup battery should the power go out during the election. Commissioner Drew Sitterud said the new machines can show you what to fix if you have made a mistake which paper ballots cannot do.
The counties will incur costs for the new machines for hardware, staff, training, vendor, voter awareness, maintenance, storage, supplies and transportation; it is not known at this time exactly what these costs will be. The machines are guaranteed for replacement until 2009 with the replacement guarantee and also a maintenance guarantee where the machine can be shipped back and repaired.
Commissioner Hatch said, "We all know and realize that we have to be HAVA compliant."
The new machines go through an accuracy test. Commissioner Hatch said there are benefits from both directions and also unknowns.
Commissioner Sitterud said if we go with Diebold and it doesn't work out we have the option to drop out at any time. Commissioner Hatch said if we don't go with Diebold and it is mandated down the road, then how much would it cost to get into it down the road to come into compliance?
Commissioner Sitterud made a motion to go ahead with the Diebold system and go with the state. Commissioner Kofford seconded the motion and it was approved.