County to use savings for voting machines

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County plans to dip into savings to buy new voting machines.

The Board of Supervisors saw a demonstration Tuesday on the digital optical scan voting machines that would replace the touch-screen devices. The state Board of Elections recently decertified all Advanced Voting Solutions WINVote machines after a report showed the devices could be hacked.

The Warren County Electoral Board recommended to the supervisors that the county buy new voting machines from Elections Services Online. General Registrar Carol Tobin and Kimberlee Shoup-Erney, with Election Services Online, made a presentation to supervisors at their work session.

The county will need to spend $180,520 to replace all the touch-screen machines with the optical scan devices. The total covers machines, including those that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and related supplies and equipment, shipping and handling, testing, installation and training.

County Administrator Douglas Stanley has said money in savings earmarked for special projects will cover the cost of the replacements.

The registrar’s office already uses a digital optical scan machine for absentee ballots. But the agency still had to rent machines for the upcoming Republican Party primary next month. The cost of the rental equipment can be deducted from the purchase price, Tobin said.

Supervisors Chairman Richard Traczyk asked if the county has a choice.

“We don’t have a choice but to do something,” Tobin told the board.

Few vendors offer equipment certified by Virginia, Tobin said.

Shoup-Erney demonstrated that a voter would mark the ballot made of a special heat-sensitive paper with an ink pen. The ballot is fed into the machine and scanned. The device makes a digital image of each ballot. The machine then prints a receipt indicating that the ballot has been scanned and stored.

Shoup-Erney said 16 localities in Virginia have used the same device since the 2012 presidential election. This way of voting speeds up the process at the precinct because a voter at a station can take as long as he or she needs to complete the ballot and not have to wait at the scanner, Shoup-Erney said. Election officials also can set up as many marking stations as needed. It takes approximately 3-4 seconds for the device to read the ballot, she said.

The devices also comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Visually impaired voters can listen to instructions using a headset attached to the machine.

State election officials decided years ago that localities could no longer replace touch screen devices that cease to function. Rather, localities would need to replace the touch screens with other certified devices such as the optical scan machines. With that in mind, the Electoral Board’s capital improvement plan calls for the replacement of the machines over a period of years. The state’s decision to decertify the machines accelerates that need.

Tobin has said that Warren County election officials had not experienced any problems with the touch screen machines.

County Administrator Douglas Stanley pointed out that the state certified the touch screen devices and then election officials changed their minds only a few years later.

“We’re comfortable that this isn’t gonna change and in five years the state’s not going to come back to us and say ‘folks, you’ve gotta replace it again,” Stanley asked.

“It is an expensive process, I mean, not only for the localities but it’s also for vendors as well,” Shoup-Erney said.

The equipment should last 10-12 years, Shoup-Erney said.

The machines randomly store the ballots in three places in the system. The devices also allow local election officials to perform recounts for specific contests.

Tobin noted that she ordered plenty of ballots.

“It’s a little counter-intuitive,” Stanley said. “We spent the last 50 years trying to add technology and go paperless.”

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com