Montgomery County, Ohio, Makes Way for New Voting Technology

Each of the county’s 177 precincts will get at least four touchscreen voting machines and two optical digital scanners that voters directly feed ballots into.

by Chris Stewart, Dayton Daily News / March 4, 2019
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(TNS) — The Montgomery County Board of Elections is packing up old voting machines to make way for about $7.5 million in new equipment, but the office is still waiting to see just how many of the old machines it will need to eke through the May election.

“We have limited space and we also have an election to run,” said Jan Kelly, the elections director. “We still have to keep some of the equipment … but we’re not sure how many precincts we’ll have open.”

There are no county-wide races in May, so some precincts won’t vote at all. So about 1,250 old machines will be idle. The board figures at least 900 machines will see one last election.

And it’s still possible a primary will be required in Dayton — which will push another 400 more into service a final time. If five candidates get on the ballot for a Dayton City Commission race, results of the run-off would determine which four advance to November’s election.

As of Wednesday, petitions of three city commission candidates had been certified: those of incumbents Matt Joseph and Chris Shaw, as well as, challenger Valerie Duncan. Another potential candidate, Shenise Turner-Sloss, filed her petition earlier this week but hadn’t been certified as of Wednesday.

Dayton candidates and those petitioning for local options within the city’s borders have until Friday to file.

Montgomery County Commissioners were ready this week to provide the last bit of authorization needed to replace the county’s aging voting machines but final paperwork from the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office wasn’t quite ready, Kelly said.

County commissioners are now expected on March 12 to approve an agreement with Ohio to get nearly $4.8 million in state funding to replace machines. The money is the result of legislation passed last year giving counties $114 million to split in order to purchase new voting equipment ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

The rest of the funding is coming from money the Board of Election set aside in previous years, said Steve Harsman, Montgomery County Board of Elections deputy director.

A vast majority of Ohio’s voting machines — purchased in 2005 and 2006 with federal funding — are becoming obsolete. The 2,300 direct-recording electronic machines used in Montgomery County were built in 2003 using “technology from the Blackberry days,” Kelly has said.

In January, the county’s elections board recommended that county commissioners purchase a hybrid paper-based, optical-scan voting system made by Election Systems & Software. An order including 900 ballot marking devices and 400 precinct scanners has already been placed with the vendor, Kelly said.

Each of Montgomery County’s 177 precincts will get at least four touchscreen voting machines and two optical digital scanners that voters directly feed ballots into. The ExpressTouch marking devices cost roughly $2,800 a piece and scanners approximately $4,600 each.

The first wave of new equipment is expected to arrive in a couple weeks, Harsman said.

“There’s going to be a lot of opening, unpacking and acceptance testing,” he said.

Dispensing with the old machines is turning into a “Herculean effort,” Kelly said. “It’s just getting everything and shrink wrapping it. We’re trying to recycle some of the aluminum and pay it back in. Unfortunately, there’s not a market for these, so a lot of it is scrap metal … Some of them will just go into the dumpster.”

The voter registration deadline for the May 7 election is April 8. The county has about 380,000 registered voters, according to the elections board.

©2019 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.