County takes pass on grant funding for new voting machines

by KATE SHUNNEY

In a split vote on August 15, the Morgan County Commission took an official pass on applying for federal grant funds to upgrade the county’s voting systems.

Commission President Joel Tuttle was the lone vote in favor of a resolution in support of County Clerk Kim Nickles seeking money through the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). Commissioners Bob Ford and Ken Reed both voted against the move to seek the federal funds.

Nickles, accompanied by a regional representative from the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office and from Election Systems & Software (ES&S), had sought a resolution from the county to apply for HAVA funds this month. Grant applications had to be sent to a state-level grant review board by August 24, said Darrell Schull of the Secretary of State’s office.

Cam Wilson of ES&S talked commissioners through his company’s proposal to replace the county’s 78 touch screen voting machines with 60 new “hybrid” machines the company favors. Wilson said 21 of West Virginia’s counties are moving to the new units, which combine a paper ballot and an electronic reader.

Wilson said his company would continue to provide support to Morgan County for their touch screen units, but he warned that they are becoming obsolete and the company has a dwindling inventory of parts and no replacement machines.

“If you don’t do something now, you should think about it in the next year,” Wilson said.

ES&S submitted a proposal to the Morgan County Clerk to replace the county’s voting machines with 60 hybrid units at a cost of $343,672. If the county qualified for HAVA grant funds, the grant could pay for 50 percent of the cost of new machines and 85 percent of electronic voter books.

Clerk Nickles asked commissioners to pass a resolution allowing her to seek the grant money and making a commitment to provide the matching funds for new machines if they accepted ES&S’s proposal.

Commissioners Reed and Ford voted against the resolution. Both indicated they weren’t prepared to promise the county’s match for the move. Ford has said he favors a move back to all paper ballots.

Commissioner Tuttle said he didn’t think the county had anything to lose by seeking the grant money, which was last made available to states more than 10 years ago.

Reed asked Wilson to give the county a “cash price” for new hybrid voting machines, rather than his estimate of what they would cost under a financing option for the county.

ES&S is the sole approved vendor of voting equipment in West Virginia, which means counties can only purchase new voter machines from that company.

 

 

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