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New voting machines in the works for Delaware

Open government group calls for paper ballots as state negotiates with vendor
September 10, 2018

Common Cause of Delaware wants Delawareans to weigh in on the state's purchase of new voting booths, urging citizens to call for a system that can't be hacked.

“Common Cause Delaware asked for the bids to be shared with the public soon after they were received by the Department of Elections in January,” said Jennifer Hill, program director for Common Cause Delaware. “This is a historic civic event in our state as we have not had a new system since 1996, and it was 50 years ago when the old lever system was purchased.”

Robert Scoglietti, director of policy and external affairs for the Office of Management and Budget, said the fiscal year 2019 Bond Bill included $10 million in state funds, and $3 million more in federal funding will be available for a new voting system.

Hill said $13 million is a lot, especially when less-expensive options provide greater voter security.

“That is a very expensive proposition, and we will be at the public hearings to provide input about the system that is recommended and how the state's financial resources are used,” Hill said.

No date has been set for a public meeting when officials will announce their selection for a voting system. The meeting will be listed on the statewide calendar when it is scheduled.

According to a memorandum written Aug. 9 by OMB Director Mike Jackson, a committee has already selected a vendor, and the state has entered into contract negotiations.

“The negotiations are expected to come to a completion on a proposed contract in late summer,” the memorandum states.

Since no meeting dates have been set for either the Voting Machine Task Force or Bond Bill Committee, Scoglietti said the memorandum serves only to provide recommendations once contract negotiations are complete. These recommendations include holding a public hearing where the recommendation for a new voting system would be presented by the Department of Elections and OMB for approval by the Voting Equipment Selection Task Force. The negotiated price for the machines would be presented at that time, and members of the public would be allowed to comment.

If the Voting Equipment Selection Task Force approves the voting system, the memorandum states another public hearing would be set, this time by the Bond Bill Committee.

“The hearing will once again afford members of the public the opportunity to comment on the proposed package,” the memorandum states.

Only after the legislative committee approves the new system would the state proceed with purchasing a new voting system.

“Should either the Voting Equipment Selection Task Force or the Joint Legislative Committee on the Capital Improvement Program co-chairs not approve the package, Elections/OMB would recommence the procurement process,” the memorandum states.

Hill said Common Cause supports a paper ballot system because it is less likely to be tampered with and cannot be hacked.

“Voters should mark, verify and cast paper ballots to create a permanent and verified record of each vote,” she said. “Second, the computer-generated election results must be checked in a manual post-election audit in which a statistically significant percentage of the ballots are checked manually to give high confidence to election results.”

Other states, such as Maryland, Colorado and Oregon have moved away from computerized voting machines and are using paper ballots to assure accurate election results. “Most voters know how to fill in an oval on a sheet of paper; it's that simple and currently used by Delaware in our absentee ballot system,” she said.

Paper ballots would also cost less than $13 million, Hill said.

One expert estimated paper ballots would cost about $10,000 per polling place and another $17,000 per county for the election management system. Calculating 420 polling places across the state, Hill said, it would cost Delaware about $4.25 million to get paper ballots.

State Election Commissioner Elaine Manlove said her office plans to have the new voting system in place for the 2020 elections, but a soft rollout will be held during the school and municipal elections in 2019. “This will give the poll workers as well as the voters an opportunity to use the new equipment,” she said.