Highland Supervisors Act On Voting Machines
Voting is a right that belongs to every citizen of the United States, but as the saying goes, the price of freedom isn’t free – and exactly how much it should cost was the question faced by the Highland Board of Supervisors Monday evening. The meeting was scheduled to close out the fiscal year for the County, but the old business of the need to replace the County’s current voting machines became the main topic.
The Supervisors learned at their May meeting that the Winvote machines which the County utilizes, were being decertified by the State Board of Elections. County registrar Alice Shumate was on hand at that meeting to explain the circumstances behind this and to give the Board options towards the purchase or lease of new machines. At that time, the Board instructed Ms. Shumate to work with Election Services Online, the vendor chosen to supply the new equipment, and county administrator Roberta Lambert to set up a contract. However, the Board did continue to explore other possible options, including consolidation of voting precincts, a suggestion the County Electoral Board weighed in against, citing voter travel distance and lack of time before the election to implement these changes. The Board asked Ms. Shumate to attend Monday’s meeting for further discussion.
She explained that herself and the Electoral Board had known the decertification was a possibility for some time, and had been looking at options for a while, and talking with ESO, who has worked with the county for 9 years, and she underscored her trust in the company. They had compared two equipment options, and while the preferred choice was the more expensive, the Electoral Board felt that it was the best, due to being state of the art, and prepared to accept needed software and programming changes in the future. Ms. Shumate reported she had reviewed the contract to see if any equipment could be removed from the order, which again raised the question of precinct consolidation to save on the number of machines purchased. The possibility was raised by county attorney Melissa Dowd of purchasing a certain number of machines, and leasing others in case future electoral boards decided to consolidate, and they were no longer needed. Ms. Shumate clarified that these were in essence, lease to own financing arrangements, not true leases, and the company would not buy the machines back, though the county was free to sell if not needed.
Ms. Dowd also reported a conversation she had with the State Board of Elections on the possibility of the county using paper ballots. A process exists for the use of those if machines are unavailable, and she had inquired whether Highland’s fiscal situation regarding the purchase could qualify for the upcoming election, until the exact needs are determined in the future. The deputy commissioner of the State Board had agreed to speak with the Attorney General’s office, and respond to Ms. Dowd the next day – however, of greater concern was the the Board would not meet again until late July, which was extremely late to purchase the needed machines. It was noted that the hand counting of paper ballots creates extra demands on poll workers, who are hard enough to find now.
Facing looming deadlines and needed action, the Supervisors ultimately moved to purchase the machines recommended by Ms. Shumate. The lease agreement is based on four years of annual payments of $18,000.
The Board then turned to closing fiscal year 2014-15. Several revisions to the budget revenue and expenditures had been made, based on input from Treasurer Lois White. The Board also authorized Ms. Lambert to transfer funds within the general operating fund for the close-out, to ensure all general fund categories have a positive balance at the end of the year. The Board also re-appointed Robert Lambert Jr. to the Board of Zoning Appeals, and approved an extension to the roof coverage being installed over the new doors on the Spruce Street entrance to the courthouse.