Butler County will save about $700,000 on new voting equipment, and the machines are like “huge iPads” so voters will have an easier time casting their ballots, officials said.
County Administrator Judi Boyko said when she and Board of Elections staff began negotiating with preferred provider Dominion, the price dropped from the estimate of $8.5 million and they were able to secure guaranteed, compatible software upgrades that were crucial to the commissioners. The state will pay about $3.2 million toward Butler County’s purchase of new equipment.
“As long as we own the equipment, Dominion has to provide a software application that is practical and useful to the existing infrastructure,” Boyko said. “As long as we have those (machines), they are going to have to continue to provide us software that will run on our hardware.”
The county entered the process of buying new voting machines with fresh memories of a challenging purchase of Motorola emergency radio equipment. The communication equipment giant handed the county a $19 million radio replacement bill, because it stopped making the devises first responders all use and stopped servicing the old ones last year.
Planned software upgrades for this year and 2021 could also potentially render the old radios useless. The county was able to negotiate a $10 million solution.
The county’s voting equipment is 15 years old, and BOE Director Diane Noonan said the new machines will be much easier to use.
“They are crisper, they’re cleaner, they’re easier to navigate,” Noonan said. “People are so used to iPads, these are like huge iPads. They are very easy to maneuver around in.”
Deputy Director Eric Corbin said “the touch screen technology in this new system is much more similar to the cell phones and tablets that people are using, when they go and tap on it with the tip of their finger it’s going to do just what they expect it to.”
The commissioners have yet to vote on the purchase, but all three abandoned the cheaper $6.3 million paper ballot system this week.
The biggest decision now is how to pay for the system. Boyko gave the commissioners several payment plan options ranging from $4.3 million for an outright purchase to $4.48 million if the payback is 10 years. The 10-year payment plan includes a $196,685 finance charge.
Boyko said she has been identifying funding sources so the commissioners should have the option of paying up front.
“We are going to present some options to them,” she said. “From my limited time here it’s been made very clear the commissioners do not like to be in a position where they are owing money whether it’s debt or payment plans.”
The county general fund debt is planned to roll to zero next year.
Commissioner Don Dixon, who balked at the high total price when the BOE made its recommendation, said he believes that board when they say the old machines must be replaced. The paper ballot option “is not in the interest I believe of anyone,” he said.
He said the county hasn’t finished negotiating and the price might drop a little a more.
“I’ve gotten the rough numbers and they’re pretty much a wash between financing it and what you could invest the money for and have a return,” he said. “We’ll have that much more money in revenues than projected for ‘19 anyway, so we’ll still be able to hit our debt-free number and pay for it if we want.”
Commissioner T.C. Rogers hasn’t made up his mind on the funding mechanism yet.
“The option to make payments is still being considered,” he said.
Commissioner Cindy Carpenter said she is “leaning” toward the outright purchase.
Noonan and Corbin said they hope to have the new machines in-house by July, which will give them enough time to prepare them for use in the November election this year. The goal has always been for voters picking a president next year to cast their ballot on new equipment.
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