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Michigan Selects New Voting Machine Vendors for Next Election

The price tag will not be cheap.

(TNS) -- LANSING -- New voting equipment will be available for the next statewide election in August 2018 after the Michigan Secretary of State announced the selection of three vendors Tuesday that local clerks can use for future elections.

The pricetag will not be cheap. The state administrative board approved contracts Tuesday with the three vendors that will cost between $52 million and $82 million. The state has $30 million leftover from the federal Help America Vote Act funds that were provided to states for new equipment after the 2000 elections. And the Legislature approved an additional $10 million last year to pay for the new machines.

And while that will cover the majority of the cost for the new system, Fred Woodhams, spokesman for Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, said Tuesday that there will be a cost for local communities of roughly $1,000 to $2,000 per precinct. Some communities have a minimal number of precincts, but for cities like Detroit, Warren, Southfield and Grand Rapids, the costs could be significant. Detroit has nearly 500 precincts, while Grand Rapids has 77, Warren has 58 and Southfield has 36.

The three election equipment and software vendors that had contracts approved today are Dominion Voting Systems of Toronto, Election Systems and Software of Omaha, Neb. and Hart InterCivic of Austin, Tex. If the communities choose the ES&S sytem, which will cost $52 million, the state will pick up 100% of the cost. The Dominion contract, which is $70 million, would result in the state picking up 82% of the cost and the Hart InterCivic, which is the most expensive option at $82 million, would have the state picking up 72.6% of the costs.

The systems are all optical scan machines in which a voter marks a paper ballot and then feeds it through an optical scanning machine. This provides a paper trail for that can be used for recounts, like the one that happened in Michigan after the Nov. 8 presidential election.

Complicating the recount, however, were scores of precincts across the state that couldn’t be recounted because the number of ballots didn't match the number of voters in poll books. In addition, on election day 2016, more than 80 optical scan readers, which are about 12 years old, broke down in Detroit, complicating the original count.

The state is still conducting an audit of 20 precincts out of Detroit from November’s election, which should be done by early February, Woodhams said.

The new machines will also have the capability of keeping a photo image of each ballot that is scanned, which may also help in audits of election results.

“This is next generation equipment. These are just better systems and more advanced,” Woodhams said. “It will certainly be very useful in terms of post-election audits.”

While some communities may have the new equipment available for use for local elections in August of this year, all clerks will be required to have the new voting machines available to use for the August 2018 statewide primary election.

The state’s current voting system – paper ballots read by optical scanning machines – was purchased in 2004 and 2005 with federal funds authorized through the Help America Vote Act.

©2017 the Detroit Free Press Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.