Aging Miami County voting machines raise concerns

Concerns about the voting machines come almost two months after the elections’ office voter registration system started developing problems just before Christmas.

Phil Mote a seasonal employee who heads up the logic and accuracy testing of each voting machine, said despite his concerns, the machines are ready to go for the March 15 primary election. Early in-person voting begins Wednesday.

“I feel confident we are going to put on a good election,” he said.

Mote told the board last week some machines were found in recent testing to jump to another candidate when a tester touched the screen. Any voting machine with that problem was taken out of use, he said.

“Based upon your programming and your testing, are you satisfied that that bug you just described is not present in any of the machines?” Jose Lopez, a BOE member, asked.

“I am because I told them if they ever hit it, let me know … I am not saying it couldn’t happen in field,” Mote said. If a voter would notice a change in vote and alert an election worker before casting the ballot, they could vote on another machine, he said.

Although voters are instructed to check the ballot before submitting it, board members discussed posting at polling places “generic signs” reminding voters to check the ballot before casting it. The Secretary of State’s Office will be asked if the signs would be allowed.

Despite his concerns, Mote said the machines are ready to go for the March 15 primary election. “I feel confident we are going to put on a good election,” he said.

Mote said he thinks the problems being experienced are from the machines’ advancing age.

Eric Morgan, deputy elections director, said he heard at an election directors’ meeting that the recommended age of replacement is 10 years.

Miami County’s more than 350 machines were bought in 2005 using more than $1 million in federal Help America Vote Act grants. The purchase ended the county’s use of an optical scanning system that was in use in 2001 when the office was placed on state oversight following problems during a Fall 2001 election in which some voting places ran out of ballots. The oversight continued into 2004.

The board does not have an estimated cost for replacing the machines.

The board has been working to implement an electronic poll book system, but at least one member said that money could be used elsewhere. “I would rather have money for machines versus electronic poll books,” board member Robert Huffman Jr. said.

Huffman, the board’s liaison with the county commissioners, said he would talk with the commissioners about the equipment needs before a board meeting being planned for Thursday.

The board also has been discussing buying new voter registration software following problems with errors with the current system. Since there isn’t time to buy the new software and install it before the March vote, board members said they wanted representatives of vendor Triad on hand during early voting to ensure election staff can access voter information needed.

A proposal for a new voter registration system from DIMS, a company associated with Election Systems and Software, lists the first year price of $55,400 that includes installation and transition of information. Election staff was asked to check with other counties using the system for their comments.

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