New voting machines will provide ‘paper trail’

NEW CASTLE — Delaware is set to have new voting machines for the 2020 presidential election, with the goal of putting them in place by May’s school board elections.

A task force given the responsibility of approving a contract with a vendor to replace the current machines unanimously approved the selection Tuesday, although the choice must still go before the Joint Committee on Capital Improvement. That committee will meet Monday, enabling lawmakers to review and vote on the selection of Election Systems & Software.

If the contract is approved, the company will provide machines and other products, including a new database application, to the state. The cost has not been publicly released and will remain private unless the contract is finalized.

Officials have up to $13 million to spend, with $3 million of that coming from the federal government and the rest coming from state funds allocated in the capital bond bill.

The new ExpressVote XL machines function similarly to the current Danaher ELECTronic 1242s, but they also incorporate a paper trail, something officials consider vital.

The machines in use now do not have voter-verifiable paper trails.

With the ExpressVote XL machines, a voter will be given a card he or she inserts into a slot in the machine. The voter then makes his or her selections on the machine, which marks them 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

“This machine to the voter looks very similar to what we have now, so I don’t think there’s a big learning curve,” Election Commissioner Elaine Manlove said.

Some lawmakers intend to introduce a bill next year that would make the cards the ballots of record in the event of a dispute between the electronic and paper results.

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.

“When you sign in, the card was printed with your ballot, so it’s only going to activate your ballot,” Ms. Manlove said. “Just like now, the machine has a button on the back, a lockout. This is sort of just a new version of the lockout.”

Delaware has about 1,500 voting machines and has used the same model since 1995, according to the request for proposal.

Delaware released the request for proposal in November after the task force met several times throughout the year. Bids were due in January, with the state receiving seven responses.

Members of the selection committee — eight election officials, an employee from the Office of Management and Budget, a worker from the Department of Technology and Information and two members of the Board of Elections — unanimously agreed Election Systems & Software’s bid was the best.

But several members of the public who attended Tuesday’s meeting questioned the decision, arguing the process of selecting a vendor had not been transparent and the state should consider other options.

“In terms of computers, or voting machines as they are called, many experts would not recommend machines, and most recommend a paper ballot and further, most agree a hand marked paper ballot is preferable,” Jennifer Hill, program director for the good government group Common Cause Delaware, said.

Stan Merriman criticized the task force for a “failure of imagination,” protesting the state should have better publicized the task force meetings and been willing to go with paper ballots to minimize the risk of electronic tampering.

However, task force members and others in attendance defended both the selection process and the choice, expressing confidence the new machines will be secure.

“It’s like you guys had a decision ahead of time and it was going to be that or nothing,” Sen. Dave Sokola, D-Newark, said to Mr. Merriman in a heated back-and-forth.

Noting Election Systems & Software’s products have been certified by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, Ms. Manlove said the agency has very high standards.

She expects the ExpressVote XLs, if approved by lawmakers, to be used for two decades. As part of the bid, the state will also be adopting a new pollbook to sign in voters, replacing the paper books with an electronic system.


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