New voting equipment OK'd for statewide use

By David Eggert
Associated Press

LANSING (AP) — The state approved contracts Tuesday to replace thousands of vote tabulators and other aging equipment used in elections across Michigan, a plan that officials plan to implement in time for the 2018 cycle.

The State Administrative Board OK’d 10-year contracts with three vendors. Depending on which system each of the 83 counties chooses, the total statewide cost will range from $52 million to $82 million for election-management software and to replace 5,300 optical scanners and 3,800 voting systems for the disabled.

Secretary of State Ruth Johnson said the voting equipment has “served us well” for 12 years but “is nearing the end of its expected lifespan and needs to be retired.” The new equipment will have the latest technology while still “featuring a good, old-fashioned paper ballot that we can always go back and look at if we need to.”

The tabulators came under scrutiny from Green Party candidate Jill Stein and others in the recent partial recount of Michigan’s presidential vote. But state election officials attributed most problems to human error and said there was no evidence of fraud or hacking.

An investigation of substantial ballot discrepancies in a small portion of Detroit’s precincts is ongoing. State Bureau of Elections Director Chris Thomas said in December that Detroit officials initially indicated that the reason for a significant mismatch between the number of ballots and the number of voter names recorded was that ballots were left in bins below the scanners and were not properly sealed.

The contracts were awarded to Dominion Voting Systems of Toronto; Election Systems & Software of Omaha, Nebraska; and Hart Intercivic of Austin, Texas.

Dominion and ES&S both have election equipment that is in use in Michigan currently.

The state has set aside $40 million, including $30 million in federal funding, for the upgrades — which were in the works long before the recent contracts approval. While that will cover “most” of the upfront cost, according to Johnson’s office, cities and townships will be responsible for the rest, including extended service and maintenance that will begin in the sixth year of the contracts.

Johnson said the new equipment and technology will save local election clerks both time and money while preparing for elections and providing the results.