State negotiating to buy new voting machines

Elaine Manlove

DOVER — Delaware officials hope to announce a contract for new voting machines in a matter of weeks.

Election Commissioner Elaine Manlove said Wednesday the Department of Justice and the Office of Management and Budget are negotiating terms of a contract for updated voting machines with an unidentified company.

Ms. Manlove aims to have the details finalized soon.

A task force looking at new machines met several times in 2017, and Delaware released a request for proposal in November. Bids were due in January.

“The State of Delaware, hereinafter referred to as ‘the State,’ is considering replacing the State’s voting equipment, voter registration system and election management system with a single, or multi-vendor, integrated voting system allowing for automation and full integration between polling place/early voting site equipment and the absentee, voter registration and election management systems,” the RFP states.

“If the project proceeds, the vendor or vendors shall be responsible for complete replacement, installation, training, testing, and maintenance, including bridge maintenance for existing systems, within 8 months.

“The scope of the project is to include all equipment, training, testing, maintenance of new equipment, transitioning from the State’s voter registration system and election management system to the new server based system and providing or contracting for bridge maintenance of existing equipment until replacement is complete.”

Delaware currently has 1,491 Danaher ELECTronic 1242 voting machines, according to the document soliciting bids. Those machines were top-notch when they were purchased, but that was in 1995.

Finding replacements has proven to be a longer process than Ms. Manlove anticipated, but she is confident the new machines will be more than adequate. Once a selection is announced, both the task force and the Joint Committee on Capital Improvement will hold public hearings. Each body must approve the contract for it to become final.

Delaware has up to $13 million to spend on new voting machines, with $3 million of that coming from the federal government and the rest coming from state funds allocated in the current capital bond bill.

While Ms. Manlove originally hoped to have the new machines in use for this year’s elections, it became clear last year that would not be the case. Instead, the 2020 presidential primary will be the first big test, although the Department of Elections plans to use the machines for school board and municipal elections first.

In August 2017, representatives of several good-government groups jointly called for new machines to include a voter-verified paper audit trail. The state currently is one of just five nationwide without a paper trail, according to the Delaware Alliance for Community Advancement.

Although the machines in use now can produce results on paper, some advocates want a system where paper ballots are created separately.

“Currently, if there were to be some sort of catastrophic failure or even if there were a failure large enough to affect multiple polling locations, there would be no way for those folks to vote because there is no paper ballot backup,” Jennifer Hill, program director for Common Cause Delaware, said Wednesday.

The new machines will have such a trail, although Ms. Manlove said she could not share details of what exactly that will entail because contract negotiations are ongoing.

According to Common Cause, which recently released the bids after a protracted battle with the Office of Management and Budget over whether the documents were public, seven vendors submitted proposals. The bid documents, obtained by the nonprofit through a Freedom of Information Act request, are redacted in some places.

A 12-person team consisting of eight election officials, an employee from OMB, a worker from the Department of Technology and Information and two members of the Board of Elections was responsible for ranking the bids. After seeing presentations from each vendor, the 12 individuals then voted on the options.

“There was one vendor that came out above the rest,” Ms. Manlove said.

The 2018 primary and general elections, meanwhile, will be the swan song for the Danaher ELECTronic 1242s. While some have raised concerns about the security of the country’s elections given the Russian meddling in in the 2016 presidential contest and attempts by Russia to access states’ voter records, Ms. Manlove is confident Delaware is safe.

Russia was unable to penetrate the First State’s registration database two years ago, she said, and state officials have been working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to ensure the systems are secure. Ms. Manlove noted Delaware’s voting machines are not connected to the internet.

She declined to share what specific measures are in place.

That has Ms. Hill a little worried. The lack of public details about election security could lead to voter distrust, she said.

Her fears are compounded by the fact the state has no verifiable paper trail.

“I would be concerned if I were a candidate right now in the event of a very close contest that calls for a recount,” she said

 

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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