State OKs money to replace, repair voting machines ahead of 2020

Local elections officials sounded relief Thursday after the Ohio House approved $114.5 million in state funds for counties to purchase new voting machines ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

“We’re happy to see it,” said Llyn McCoy, Greene County’s elections director. “The equipment itself is becoming obsolete.”

Greene County has 575 functioning machines, but started with 700 altogether, McCoy said.

“The ones we have over that number have been taken apart and harvested for parts,” she said. “We’ve taken their legs, their brackets and everything off those to keep the equipment that we have going.”

The bipartisan house bill finally passed unanimously, 87-0, but didn’t get a vote during weeks the chamber was without a speaker following Cliff Rosenberger’s resignation.

It could take up to $8 million to replace Montgomery County voting machines. Passage of the bill means the county should receive a little more than half that from the state — $4.2 million to $4.5 million, said Jan Kelly, the Montgomery County Board of Elections director.

“I’d be really disappointed had they recessed without passing this,” Kelly said. “That would have really put us behind and we would have probably not have been looking at new machines for the next presidential election.”

Elections officials in Clark County say it could cost roughly $1.2 million to replace current equipment; depending on the system, anywhere from $2.5 to $4 million in Greene County.

Money will be distributed to counties based in part on the number of registered voters they have.

County Commissioners Association of Ohio and the Ohio Association of Election Officials said the money will help counties “make desperately needed upgrades to voting technology.”

Ohio purchased most of the current voting machines in 2005 and 2006 with nearly $115 million in federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) money. HAVA passed after the 2000 presidential election exposed the critical need for upgrades.

Montgomery County has some money saved for new machines, said Steve Harsman, the elections board deputy director.

“We do have $1.5 million set aside that we’ve saved over the last several years, so we are well positioned to pay for this system without it being too big of a burden on the county, depending on the total cost of the system we end up choosing,” he said.

Five vendors will demonstrate systems for the county this month beginning Tuesday. The systems will be reviewed by a 12-person task force that should pick one by the end of October with expected delivery around the first of the year in time to use in the May 2019 election, Harsman said.

“That would give us two elections of testing it and getting it before voters and our poll workers prior to the presidential election,” he said.

Related: Ohioans may have to dig deep to cover cost of new voting machines

McCoy said Greene County also wants new machines in place and proven before the 2020 presidential election when turnout is expected to be larger.

The funding should have been approved in the state capital budget months ago, said state Rep. Kathleen Clyde, D-Kent, who is running for Secretary of State.

“It’s a shame that election officials have had to wait so long as their budgets have been cut and they’ve had to go looking for replacement parts on eBay,” she said. “Now, they’ll have some help upgrading and securing their systems.”

The bill was sponsored by state Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Hudson, who is also running for Secretary of State.