Ohio Eyes $114.5M for New Voting Machines in 2019, Hoping for Test Runs Before 2020

The state is moving to provide counties with necessary funding to replace aging voting machines in time for the 2019 election.

by Jim Siegel, The Columbus Dispatch / March 1, 2018
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(TNS) — Counties would get nearly $115 million in state money to replace aging voting machines in time for the 2019 election under a bill expected to pass the legislature this spring.

Total funding largely matches the estimate of what it would cost to replace all voting machines in Ohio with the lowest cost paper-ballot machines known as optical scan. However, the bill by Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Hudson, allows counties to choose their own machines, whether they involve paper or more-expensive touch-screen machines known as DREs.

Counties would get an initial lump sum payment of between $205,000 and $406,000 depending on population size to help with start-up costs. Most of the funding would be distributed to each county on a per-voter basis.

"We cannot allow Ohio's future elections to be compromised due to failing voting machines," said LaRose, who is running for secretary of state. "This issue needs to be addressed now before major technical issues disrupt the integrity of our elections."

The goal is to have the money available so counties can have new machines running for the smaller-turnout 2019 elections. State and local officials do not want to see most counties trying out new machines for the first time in the 2020 presidential election.

Jocelyn Bucaro, president of the Ohio Association of Election Officials, said the funding will allow counties to make desperately needed voting machine upgrades.

"We are pleased that the state legislature is willing to step up in a big way to assist counties and ensure that our critical election infrastructure is secure and reliable for Ohio's voters," she said.

County officials, who initially requested $185 million in funding, will watch closely to see if the funding level gets reduced prior to passage. Gov. John Kasich has been pushing for a lower figure of about $100 million, and LaRose said talks with the administration were still going late Wednesday.

"I believe our $114.5 million number is justifiable," LaRose said. "We'll sit down with our respective spreadsheets early next week and see if we can reach a compromise."

Lake County Commissioner Dan Troy said it's a good amount, but counties could use more. He estimates his county would get about $2.2 million, but touch-screen machines would cost more than $5 million.

Of the $114.5 million in the bill, $10 million would go to the 14 counties that have already moved to purchase new voting machines.

Most voting equipment in Ohio was purchased in 2005 and 2006, largely with $115 million in one-time federal money through the Help America Vote Act. County elections officials say those machines are increasingly difficult to maintain, as parts become scarce and breakdowns more frequent.

LaRose said there are discussions about trying to build up a fund that will help counties pay for new machines again in another decade.

Roughly half of Ohio counties use paper ballots, while half use touch-screen voting. However, elections officials say the trend going forward is moving more toward paper ballots because of cost and lingering concerns about issues like hacking.

Voting machines in Ohio are not permitted to be connected to the Internet, and the state requires all touch-screen machines to have a verifiable paper trail that can be audited.

"There are states where they have touch-screens with no verifiable paper trail. That is a remarkable vulnerability," LaRose said.

Voting machines go through a robust certification process by the Federal Elections Assistance Commission to ensure the machines are secure, LaRose said.

As long as it has a paper trail, LaRose said he doesn't care which system counties choose.

©2018 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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