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Are DREs a waste of Chatham taxpayer money?

By Bonnie Bechard
Posted Tuesday, April 4, 2006

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Pittsboro, NC - The county has many needs, and I'm sure we all agree that taxpayer money should be carefully managed. I question the oversight the Board of Commissioners has over the budgets and spending of county offices. I have reviewed the cost analyses of the Board of Elections and have found them to be in error and biased towards the purchase of DRES (touch-screen computers), resulting in a waste of taxpayer money.


The BOE's initial cost analysis of optical scanners v DRE's over a ten-year period, showed optical scanners (paper ballot tabulators) costing $1,129,607 and the DRE option $1,026.771. A more thorough cost analysis, based on US Census projections, voting machine vendor price lists and the BOE calculations for ballots and consumables, reveals the actual comparable costs would be about $948,000 for the optical scan option and $1,449,000 for the DRE option. In other words, DRE's would cost taxpayers more than half a million dollars more than optical scanners. The "compromise" solution, using both systems is the most expensive of all. For example, duplication of training, the costs of merging results from two systems, etc.

The BOE made several mistakes in their calculations:

1. It calculated 1 DRE/250 voters. This is the minimum required by the state. Voting experts recommend 1 DRE/170 voters. When I contacted other NC counties who have used DRE's, they recommend 1 DRE/200 voters at a minimum.

2. It did not add any new DRE's over the 10-year period, assuming 0 growth, but it is estimated the number of registered voters will increase by at least 7000 in the next 10 years. That is 35 more DRE's versus no more than 3 new optical scanners, if we split off 3 new precincts.

3. It counted the cost of ballots for optical scanners every year, but general elections are held only in even years. It included the cost of absentee ballots for the optical scan option, but not for the DRE option.

4. It didn't include truck rental and delivery costs for DRE's, but included them for optical scanners.

Even now, the BOE is spending $36,000 on modems, which they said they don't plan to use, but might in the future. Modems are used to transmit election results over phone lines and are not secure.

We need more oversight of the budget process and the citizens of Chatham County should not tolerate sloppy cost estimates. We should demand that the Board of Commissioners closely scrutinize future Board of Election budget requests.

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Are DREs a waste of Chatham taxpayer money?