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Board of Elections selects the wrong new voting machine option

By Nick Meyer
Posted Wednesday, January 11, 2006

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Pittsboro, NC - On Wednesday evening, January 4, 2006 the Chatham County Board of Elections held a public forum to address the decision the County must make (as mandated by the State) on new voting machines for the county. The attendees of the meeting came from both parties and were made up largely of folks who have worked hard in Chatham County elections as poll workers. In a long presentation, by a sales representative of the vendor, both systems (the Optical Scan Tabulation System and the Direct Record Election System DRE) merits were shown. A spirited question and answer session followed. The BOE was unable or unwilling to present the forum with a cost estimate. A member of the BOE told a reporter that the decision would not be made solely on cost.

The group overwhelmingly (53-14) indicated a preference for the Optical Scan System.

The attendees were asked to register their opinion of which system they preferred on little blue cards that were collected and tabulated by the BOE. The group overwhelmingly (53-14) indicated a preference for the Optical Scan System.

Yet on the morning of Friday, January 6, the BOE unanimously recommend that the county buy the DRE voting machines instead. The BOE maintained to the same reporter that they decided. on the basis of cost over a ten year period as presented in a written estimate that was eventually distributed to attendees.

I maintain that this estimate contains some obvious errors and omissions.

Ballot & Delivery Costs

Ballot costs and delivery costs are included for the Optical Scan system as both a startup cost and as a continuing cost for 10 years. Thus the Total Estimates for 10 years are really costs for 11 years.

I would have thought that the BOE would be aware that we hold countywide elections only every other year. In the next ten years we will hold, six county-wide elections. But their estimates for 10 years of costs not only include an extra year of costs they include ballot and delivery costs for five years we don't even have county elections!

This is a $166,000 inflation of the costs for the Optical Scan system. This is more than the amount of the putative 10 year savings for DRE in the BOE estimate.

Admittedly, some of this amount is offset by the fact that municipal elections are held in Pittsboro and Siler City in the off years, but those elections use only a fraction of the ballots and machines used by county-wide elections.

Additionally, no ballot costs are included for the DRE system. Yet we will still need ballots for absentee and provisional voters. As anyone familiar with the costs of printing knows, the mastering cost for the first ballot is significantly higher than the marginal costs of the last ballots.

The estimate includes a $3000 cost per year for the delivery of the approximately 60 pound bases (albeit bulkier – vendor estimates) for the optical scanners and the tables for the ballot marking machines. As many of our precinct workers are older I would anticipate that, in the future, there will be delivery costs for the five to ten 50 pound plus DREs that each voting place will need.

Voting Machine - Numbers

I have been Chief Judge at one of the smallest (in terms of number of voters) voting places (Merritt's Chapel) in the county. At the last general election we had six voting booths - at critical periods of the day the voters were backed up due to a lack of booths. The cost estimate proposes only 150 DRE voting machines. I maintain this will be insufficient for a large turnout general election with our present number of voters, let alone the needs of a fast growing population.

Conclusion

That the Board of Elections did not supply any comparative cost estimates (or indeed, estimates of any kind) at the public forum Wednesday night seems to me nonfeasance.

That the estimates used to make their recommendation to the County Commissioners are so flawed in structure and detail seems to me misfeasance.

If the over-estimates of the costs of the optical scanning system and the under-estimates of the costs of the DRE system are in anyway an attempt to justify a preconceived decision on their part, that would be malfeasance.

Nick Meyer
988 Boothe Hill Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC 27517

 
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