12-County Coalition in Florida Seeks New Voting Machines By Election Season

The current voting machines are obsolete, and the coalition hopes to have new ones in time to avoid any comparisons with the 2000 election.

by Gary Pinnell, Highlands Today, Sebring, Fla. / September 24, 2015
Orange County Registrar of Voters
(TNS) -- After the Bush-Gore debacle in 2000, Florida became proactive. Punch cards and hanging chads were replaced with optical scanners.

But that was 15 years ago, and those new optical scanners are now old technology.

“It’s an area of concern,” said Highlands County Elections Supervisor Penny Ogg.

Her office has kept maintenance agreements. “They get a yearly going over by the vendor,” Ogg said.

Nevertheless, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner has placed Highlands in a 30-county mix for voting machine replacements.

A 12-county coalition with 14-year-old machines has asked for grants from the Department of State, and they’re asking the state with its greater purchasing power to buy the machines.

“We are in contract talks now,” Ogg said. If the deal is struck, Highlands County would replace all 55 optical scanners for about $300,000.

“We’re staying with optical scanners,” Ogg said. “You have a paper trail. You can go back and put your hands on the ballot.”

Even if every optical scanner in the county malfunctioned, those old-school ballots could still be counted by hand.

“We would be good to go before the 2016 elections,” Ogg said. Election season starts on March 15 with the presidential primary.

Many states have the same problem, NBC News reported on Sept. 16. “America’s voting machines are reaching the end of their lifespans, and many states appear unwilling to spend the money to replace them.”

NBC cited the Brennan Center for Justice report, which said 14 states are using machines purchased more than 15 years ago. Highlands County just misses that category.

Tuesday’s report paints an alarming picture, NBC reported. Like computers, the expected lifespan for most voting machines is 20 years. But in most states, a majority of jurisdictions have at least some machines purchased in 2006 or earlier, while every jurisdiction in 11 states uses such machines, including presidential battlegrounds like Nevada and New Hampshire.

Election officials are increasingly sounding the alarm, NBC reported.

Vastly adding to the problem is that many counties in desperate need of new machines don’t have the money to buy them, and state legislatures, not seeing the urgency of the issue, don’t look likely to give it to them. Election officials in 22 states told the report’s authors they do not know how they’ll afford new machines that they need.

“We heard from more than one election official that what they’re hearing (from state legislatures) is basically, come back to me when there’s a real problem. In other words, come back to me after the catastrophe,” said Lawrence Norden, the deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, and the report’s lead author.

“We don’t ask the fire department to wait until the truck breaks down before they can (buy) a new vehicle,” Edgardo Cortes, Virginia’s director of elections, told the report’s authors.

New or old, Highlands County’s election machinery won’t be used for another six months. Right now, Ogg and staff are working on the voting rolls.

“We’re looking at people we haven’t seen or heard from for a couple of cycles, updating their records,” Ogg said. They also match names with recently convicted felons from clerk of courts office. The citizen gets a letter, to which they can respond, if the information is incorrect. Ogg is also hiring poll workers for the March 15 presidential primary.

“We’re just really concerned,” one Missouri election official told the Kansas City Star recently. “Going into a presidential election year with old equipment — we don’t want to be another Florida.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Ogg laughed when the remark was repeated. “It’s like when you have a an older vehicle, and you have to decide whether going on a long trip or not. I hope we get the new equipment, but if we don’t, I’m not worried.”

©2015 the Highlands Today (Sebring, Fla.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.