Lawmakers OK purchase of 1,500 new voting machines

 

DOVER — Delaware’s new voting machines will cost about $13 million.

A legislative committee on Monday approved the purchase of approximately 1,500 ExpressVote XL machines to replace the Danaher ELECTronic 1242s, which have been in use since 1995.

The new machines, the selection of which was announced last week, have a voter-verifiable paper trail, meaning voters can ensure the machine records their selections accurately. Delaware is one of five states that currently lacks such a trail.

Made by Nebraska-based Election Systems & Software, the specific version of the machine has never been used in any jurisdiction, according to Election Commissioner Elaine Manlove. A similar model, which is essentially the same thing but is smaller, has been used in several states.

“We are confident in what we decided to do. I think everybody is on the same page,” Ms. Manlove said, noting the 12 members of the selection committee unanimously agreed Election Systems & Software’s bid was the best one. “I think this is a good system for Delaware.”

The state released a request for proposal for new machines in November. Bids were due in January, with the state receiving seven responses.

The ExpressVote XL machines will function with paper cards, which will be given to voters when they sign in on election day. The voter inserts the card into a slot in the machine and makes his or her selections on the touch screen. The choices are marked on the card for the voter to see.

The voter can confirm the accuracy of his or her votes both on the machine and on the card. Cards will be stored in a secure container attached to the machine.

Elaine Manlove

The department aims to make the cards the official ballots of record instead of the machines, although such a change will need to be made through legislation.

That’s anticipated to happen early in 2019.

Because Delaware has a closed primary, the machines will interact with the cards in a way that will ensure a Delawarean can only vote in his or her party’s primary.

The machines look similar to the current ones and, aside from the card, function much the same way.

Officials hope to have the machines in place by May to test them for school board and municipal elections and fix any kinks before 2020 — a presidential election year.

“It is a new system,” Rep. Quinn Johnson, a Middletown Democrat who co-chairs the Joint Committee on Capital Improvement, said. “There will definitely be new processes in place so I can guarantee there’s going to be issues but that’s the whole point of getting it out now, addressing it and handling it. You cannot think that any system will be 100 percent perfect.”

Six of the 12 lawmakers on the committee were present, and all six agreed the selection of Election Systems & Software was a good one.

The company’s bid also includes an electronic pollbook to allow the state to track voter information, a system for scanning absentee ballots and new registration software. Election Systems & Software’s products have been certified by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

Despite the confidence expressed by lawmakers and members of the selection committee, a few advocates have concerns about the machines and the process. Jennifer Hill, program director for the good government group Common Cause Delaware, noted a similar ExpressVote model in use in Johnson County, Kansas, suffered issues during a primary election last month, meaning results were not tallied until the morning after the day of the election.

She has urged officials to consider paper ballots.

Desmond Kahn, a member of the Delaware Coalition for Open Government, blasted the selection committee for what he said was a process lacking in transparency and asked lawmakers to delay a vote.

“We don’t feel that the task force adequately investigated alternative methods of voting,” he said.

Joint Committee on Capital Improvement co-chair Sen. Dave Sokola, a Newark Democrat, denied the request, saying officials have tried to answer questions and he is confident the machines will be secure and effective.

Once the purchase is finalized, the state will probably get rid of the old Danaher ELECTronic 1242s, according to Ms. Manlove. Because of the age of the machines, it’s unlikely Delaware could get any sizable sum of money for them.

“They’re probably the oldest machines in the country,” Ms. Manlove said.

The state allocated $10 million for the purchase and received another $3 million from the federal government.

 

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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