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Secretary Johnson announces next-generation voting equipment


 

N-New-voting-equipment-every-voice-counts-logoLocal clerks now will choose which system works best

City and township clerks across the state got some welcome news this week, when Secretary of State Ruth Johnson announced the approval of contracts for new next-generation voting equipment that all Michigan voters will use over at least the next decade.

The State Administrative Board approved 10-year contracts with three vendors for optical-scan voting systems that read and tabulate paper ballots marked by voters. Each of Michigan’s 83 county clerks now will consult with the city and township clerks in their county to select one of the three vendors.

“The new equipment offers voters all the speed and convenience of the latest ballot-scanning and election-night reporting technology while at the same time featuring a good, old-fashioned paper ballot that we can always go back and look at if we need to,” said Johnson, the state’s chief elections official.

N-New-Voting-pullquoteLisa Wright, the clerk in Spencer Township, who also worked as an election inspector in Spencer Township for 15 years, was happy to hear the news. “I think this is fantastic. The benefits far out-weigh the cost,” she remarked. “The current machines are way outdated.”

The three election equipment and software vendors that had contracts approved are Dominion Voting Systems, Election Systems and Software and Hart InterCivic, which all have systems that are being successfully used in other states.

“Michigan’s voting equipment has served us well over the past 12 years, but it is nearing the end of its expected lifespan and needs to be retired,” Johnson said. “I thank local clerks for their feedback as we discussed how to replace our aging equipment as well as the support of lawmakers and the governor.”

The new equipment, which includes ballot tabulators, accessible devices for use by voters with disabilities and election-management and reporting software, could be in use as early as the August 2017 primary local elections, depending on how quickly clerks are ready to implement them. All cities and townships across the state will have the new equipment by August 2018, which is the next scheduled statewide election.

The new systems all use digital optical scan technology, which includes notable improvements and increased ease of use for voters and election administrators. The systems allow for electronic storage of ballot images, a feature that will be useful during post-election audits. Improvements in the election management system software will save county and local clerks time and money in preparing for elections and providing election results. The options available for voters with disabilities are also greatly improved, and contractors will be required to continually assess and improve the systems, based on feedback. The contracts also cover service and maintenance.

A team of Michigan Bureau of Elections staff, local election officials and purchasing agents from the Secretary of State’s Office and the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget reviewed the proposals and equipment before recommending approval of a contract with three vendors. Elections staff sought extensive feedback about the systems from local election officials and advocates for Michigan voters with disabilities.

Solon Township clerk Mary Lou Poulsen said that County Elections Director, Susan de Steiguer, kept the local clerks of Kent County well informed during the long process of voting equipment replacement. “She served as an advisory member on the Michigan Bureau of Elections’ committee charged with the task of recommending replacement systems,” explained Poulsen. She said local clerks will get to try out the systems at a presentation in March.

“Fortunately, Solon Township has had good experience with the current tabulation equipment, with a few problems in the tabulation of Absent Voter ballots, where creases from being folded and mailed have caused jamming…(but) we never did have much luck with the Automark system that was designed for voters needing assistance in the polls. The machines were cumbersome, slow and jammed easily,” she explained.

Poulsen added that yes, she does think it is time to replace the equipment. “Twelve years is a quite a good lifespan for this type of equipment.”

But what does concern her is that they don’t yet know how much of the cost the township will have to cover. “That’s still quite a concern for us as we prepare next year’s budget,” she said.

Johnson said that the new equipment will be paid for with $30 million in federal Help America Vote Act money that the Secretary of State’s Office has saved for more than a decade, and with $10 million approved by the Legislature with the support of Gov. Snyder. This funding will cover most of the up-front cost for the new systems. Cities and townships will pay for the remaining cost, which will vary, depending on which vendor is selected, and for extended service and maintenance, which will begin in the 6th year of the contract period.

The equipment voters used in 2016 was rolled out in 2004 and 2005 when Michigan began using optical-scan voting systems statewide. Michigan is one of the only states with a substantial amount of federal funds still available to assist with the purchase of the next-generation voting systems.

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