County commission approves purchase of voting machines
Leavenworth County Commission has accepted an offer of a state grant and will spend nearly $310,000 on new electronic voting machines, despite a county resident's concern about the machines' safeguards against voter fraud.
The commission voted Thursday morning to order 89 new electronic voting machines a day ahead of the state deadline of Friday for the earmarked grant money to be spent.
The state's $289,650 grant is part of a program to help counties comply with the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002. The law requires all polling places to provide access to secret voting for voters with disabilities so that assistance is not required for them to cast ballots.
The three county commissioners all voted to approve County Clerk Linda Scheer's recommendation to order 39 voting machines specially designed to accommodate the blind and 50 regular ones from Electronic Systems & Software of Omaha, Neb., at a total cost of $309,251 for the machines. The county will kick in the additional $19,601.
Before the commission's vote, Tonganoxie resident Mark Knipp expressed concern about the lack of a voter-verifiable paper trail in the machines recommended by Scheer. Knipp's concern, he said, stems from the importance he placed on "the sanctity of the vote."
Knipp came prepared with a sheaf of papers he said documented cases of electronic voting machine fraud cases from around the country in last year's presidential election.
"I have two sick kids and cows with frozen water, and this was so important to me, I came here this morning," he said.
Knipp said the absence of secure means for voters to verify their respective votes that could then be counted later in the case of an audit of the electronic tabulation made him worry about the reliability of a "basic fundamental of representative republics."
"I read an article where a lady said she hacked into an electronic voting machine in five minutes," Knipp said.
Scheer said voter-verifiable paper systems were not required by the federal voting act, and furthermore, Kansas Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh did not recommend counties purchase such equipment.
The machines Scheer recommended could be outfitted with cartridges, she said, that would print out on a roll of paper for each voter to check that their recorded votes matched their choices. Scheer said it would cost about $330 per machine to add, but the state money can't go toward such paper vote verification systems.
The problem with that system, Knipp said, is that such a record would provide a possible means of learning or proving how specific voters voted. The best kind of system, he said, would allow the voter to verify his or her vote on an individual receipt, which would then be dropped into a secure box at the polling site.
Knipp wasn't the only one unhappy about the purchase. All of the commissioners - Dean Oroke, Don Navinsky and Clyde Graeber - voiced their displeasure at having to comply with what Graeber called an unfunded mandate from the federal government.
Oroke grudgingly approved the purchase.
"I hate being forced to do it, but this is probably the best equipment to meet our needs," Oroke said.
He said that at a recent demonstration of different voting machine systems that included paper ballot as well as electronic machines, all poll workers who attended favored the electronic systems.
The 39 machines for handicapped voters cost $119,730, and the cost for 50 regular machines was $141,000. Additional software at a cost of $48,521 rounds out the cost of the new machines.
Although compliance with the voting act would only require the county to buy 39 machines - one for each precinct, plus one for advance voting and one extra for back-up -Scheer said she recommended the 50 additional ones to use the full allotment from the state. The $19,601 in costs beyond the state's grant was money the county had in its equipment reserve budget, Scheer said.
Scheer also recommended to the commission a second order of 65 more regular machines at a cost of $299,934, but the commission decided to discuss that purchase and its source of funding at a later, unspecified meeting.