Butler, Warren election boards in line for state voting machine money

While the Ohio Secretary of State has approved county boards of elections to begin acquiring new voting equipment, the Butler County Board of Elections is “in a holding pattern” for now, officials said.

Ohio lawmakers approved $104.5 million earlier this year to be divided up among county boards of elections to help buy new voting equipment. Many of Ohio's county elections boards have machines that pre-date the first-generation iPhone (which came out in June 2007), including Butler and Warren county.

“We are currently waiting for state pricing, so we are in a holding pattern until we get the pricing,” said Diane Noonan, Butler County elections director. “I spoke to the (Secretary of State)(Nov. 28) and was told that they are working on it and we should have pricing within three weeks.”

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Butler County has around 1,600 touch-screen voting machines, which records a voter’s ballot to a unique card inserted into the machine. Between 1,200 and 1,300 are sent to polling locations for elections. Several dozen are unusable, and dozens more need to be repaired after each election, according to the county elections office.

Warren County has 185 voting machines that scan paper ballots. They use 173 of those machines at polling locations.

Both counties purchased their machines in 2005.

“Taking action now allows the voting machines to be put in place next year so poll workers can be trained and the equipment can be tested well ahead of the 2020 presidential election,” Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted said.

The Ohio Department of Administrative Services has awarded contracts to five voting system vendors — Clear Ballot Group, Dominion Voting Systems, Election Systems & Software, Hart InterCivic, and Unisyn Voting Solutions. County boards of elections eligible to participate in the program will select their system, equipment, and services from the approved vendor’s list.

“We have worked with all of the approved vendors to evaluate their voting systems to find the solution that will work best for Butler County,” said Eric Corbin, Butler County’s deputy director. “At this time we have not eliminated any vendors. We hope to work quickly to maximize the amount of preparation time before the implementation of a new voting system.”

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Warren County elections Director Brian Sleeth said they’ve interviewed and seen demonstrations from four vendors before the November 2018 election.

“We will be narrowing it down to two at our December board meeting and have those two come back in for another hands-on demonstration,” he said. “Our goal is to have a vendor selected by mid-January and use the new machines at our May special election, if we have one.”

Warren County has received price quotes from vendors between $1.4 million and $2.7 million. Butler County had received quotes in 2017 of between $3 million and $6 million, but Corbin said that is out-dated.

“Since the pricing was just released we do not have a new range yet,” he said. “We need to get new Butler County-specific quotes. That’s what we are working on.”

The funding will be released in phases — beginning with approximately $72 million available to counties who plan to replace their voting systems before the 2019 Primary Election — and is based on voter registration numbers as of July 1, 2017. In addition to the $104.5 million allocation, $10 million in reimbursement funding will be available to counties who have replaced their voting systems since Jan. 1, 2014.

Butler County had just more than 241,000 registered voters at that time and Warren County had around 155,00 registered voters.

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