The state should pay $118 million to upgrade voting machines in all 88 Ohio counties, covering 100 percent of the cost for those willing to use paper ballots and optical scan technology, according to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.
“The last time Ohio replaced its voting machines, the iPhone hadn’t been released, people still rented movies from Blockbuster, and social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat didn’t exist,” Husted said in a Thursday news release. “It’s time to make updating our voting equipment a priority.”
Most of Ohio’s voting machines were purchased in 2005 and 2006 and were paid for almost entirely with federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) money. Husted and others doubt the current Congress will allocate money to pay for replacing the equipment.
“It’s time for the state’s leaders to step forward and approve a funding plan to replace Ohio’s aging voting technology,” Husted said in a Dec. 14 letter to Ohio Gov. John Kasich and legislative leaders.
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Husted wants to see the equipment purchased in 2018 so that there can be a test run in 2019 before the presidential election of 2020.
Husted’s term ends at the end of 2018 and he is running for lieutenant governor on a ticket with Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine in 2018.
State Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Hudson, and State Rep. Kathleen Clyde, D-Kent, are running in the 2018 election for secretary of state.
Earlier this year LaRose introduced a bill that would have had the state pay 80 percent of the cost of the machines and have local governments pay for the rest of the cost. That bill is pending.
“Our members have been discussing the issue for some time, including the potential for some funding for voting machines to come from the capital budget process,” said John Fortney, spokesman for the Ohio Senate Majority Caucus.
Husted’s plan would have the state pick up all of the cost unless counties want something more expensive than than optical scan machines with paper ballots. The Ohio Department of Administrative Services has estimated it would cost $118 million to buy that type of equipment for all counties.
Currently about half the counties use optical scan equipment, including Clark, Champaign, Warren and Preble counties. The other half use electronic touch screen equipment with memory cards and a paper record of votes. Locally, Montgomery, Greene, Butler, Miami and Darke counties use electronic touch screen machines.
Under Husted’s plan the counties would pay the difference if new touch screen machines cost more than optical scan.
Steve Harsman, deputy director of the Montgomery County Board of Elections, said the cost of electronic touch screen machines is expected to be about $200 million if all 88 counties purchased them.
Harsman and County Commissioner Debbie Lieberman both sit on a state task force looking at the voting machine issue.
“We are in full support of the need to replace our aging voting equipment. We are hopeful the state legislature will include in the capital bill funding to help counties financially with the replacement cost,” Harsman said.
He estimates it would cost Montgomery County $8 million to buy new electronic touch screen machines, which Harsman said offer advantages over optical scan equipment.
“So, depending on how much the state provides, the county would have to provide the difference,” Harsman said. “We have been saving from our budget each year for several years. We have approximately $1.2 million in our capital fund and hope to reach 2 million by the time we implement to help offset the financial burden on the county.”
On Thursday Clyde called for the state to mandate a secure paper-ballot system.
“Aging equipment that stores ballots electronically on memory cards must be replaced with systems that use full auditable, vote-marked paper ballots, Cylde said in a news release. “We must modernize to meet the cyber security challenges that are upon us.”
Montgomery County elections officials have said they are very confident in how well protected their electronic voting machines and memory cards are.
The issue of voting system and voting machine hacking was huge in 2016 after hackers, believed to be from Russia, attempted to gain access to voting systems in multiple states. Voting systems, which include online voter registration lists and final election results are online. Voting machines are not. In fact, federal law prohibits voting machines and the tabulation equipment used to count paper ballots and electronic voting machine memory cards from ever being connected to the internet.
In Ohio the voting equipment, ballots and memory cards are kept under lock and key at county boards of elections and can only be accessed by a pair of staff members — one a Democrat and the other a Republican.
When results are tablulated on election night they are put on a thumb drive, provided by the secretary of state, that is then put into a dedicated computer to transmit the results to the state. That thumb drive is used just once to avoid contamination by any online bugs.
Backups of all results are kept by all the counties and the paper ballots and the electronic machines paper records are kept for a period of time until results have been verified and certified.
Other stories by Lynn Hulsey