To: Board of Supervisors

 

From: Richard J. Washburne, Registrar

 

Date: May 24, 2007

 

Subject: Purchase of Additional Voting Machines

 

 


 

The election code (Va. Code § 24.2-627) sets a requirement for the minimum number of voting machines that must be available for use in each precinct for elections, based on the number of registered voters per precinct. The election code (Va. Code § 24.2-307) also sets a limitation on the maximum population for an electoral precinct based on a formula which factors in the number of persons in a precinct voting in a presidential election. The practical effect of these two provisions of the election code is: 1) to require localities to keep a certain number of voting machines operational at all times, and to repair or if necessary replace broken machines, so as to be able to ensure that the required minimum number of machines per precinct is available for all elections, and 2) to require localities to add to their total inventory of voting machines as the population of the locality increases. In addition, the Department of Voter Registration and Elections has found that in heavy turnout elections, it is advisable to have more than the minimum number of voting machines available for use, in order to reduce the time spent by voters waiting to vote.

 

Currently, the County has an inventory of 97 voting machines. All but one of these machines are DREs.  In the November, 2006 general election, 94 of the 97 machines were used. The other three were out of service. As a result, there is currently no safety net for a major election.

 

In order to have enough DRE machines to meet the projected number of machines needed through the 2008 presidential election (the upcoming November 2007 general election, February 2008 presidential primary election, June 2008 federal primary election and the November 2008 presidential election), the Electoral Board has determined that six additional DREs will be needed to accommodate for an increase in the county population and potential break-down of some existing machines.  The State Board of Elections advises that the county would get federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) reimbursement for five of these six purchases.  The Electoral Board decided to continue to use our DREs for the immediate future, rather than immediately begin to purchase optical scan machines.  Replacing all of our DREs with optical scan machines would cost $5,660 per machine, times 2, as we would need 2 optical scan machines per precinct. We currently have 29 precincts (28 plus central absentee), so the approximate cost would be $ 328,280.   In addition, we would need to purchase one marking booth per 450 registered voters in each precinct (for marking the ballots that are then fed into the optical scan machine, adding an additional $30,000 to the projected cost).  While the current long-term plan is to phase in the optical scan machines, the Electoral Board did not feel that doing so would be wise at this time, as it would result in different machines being used in different precincts in the 2008 presidential election.

 

In addition, the optical scan machines do not appear to be in compliance with the accessibility requirements of HAVA.  While a marking device exists which helps visually impaired voters mark their ballots unassisted, that device is not accessible to all disabled persons.  Voters who are unable to handle paper independently must have someone else insert the paper ballot into the optical scan counter on their behalf.  The DREs used in Albemarle County are accessible to both visually impaired voters and voters who use a “sip and puff” device to assist themselves in voting.  Many election administrators believe there is the potential for lawsuits from the disabled community if optical scan machines are adopted for use.  Furthermore, the only marking device certified for use in Virginia at this time is incompatible with the optical scan machines available from our vendor.  Accordingly, even if we were to introduce optical scan machines into some of our precincts, we would need to maintain at least one of our current DRE machines in each of those precincts in order to properly serve the disabled community. 

 

In addition to the foregoing factors, there is pending federal legislation, which may alter the recent Virginia voting machine legislation. H.B. 811 in its current form would require, among other things, that all voting machines used in federal elections produce a verified paper audit trail; however, it does not mandate the use of optical scan machines.  The version of the bill that was voted out of a House committee and is now before the full House provides, with a few exceptions, that the new requirements must be met for the 2008 Presidential election.   Even if the bill in its current form is passed by the full House, it then goes to the Senate, where it faces a competing bill.  It is unclear how, as a practical matter, the bill, if enacted, would be implemented nationwide by November, 2008.  However, at this point it is impossible to say what the outcome will be.

 

In its current form, the federal bill appears to permit the use of DRE electronic voting machines in federal elections, provided that they print a marked paper ballot at the same time that they register a voter’s vote electronically, and include a feature which will allow the voter to view what the printed paper ballot will look like before the voter hits the final “cast ballot” button, so the voter can be sure that what the machine will print out on paper is consistent with the electronic vote that the voter casts on the machine.  Whether there is existing technology to retro-fit the county’s DREs to include these requirements is unclear.

 

In light of all the above, the Electoral Board felt that the most cost effective path forward at this time would be to continue to use the DREs and purchase a number of additional DREs reimbursable under HAVA.  This would allow us to see what effect the pending federal legislation will have, rather than implementing purchase and integration of new optical scan machines. This way, if the federal legislation gets passed and does allow us to continue with DREs if they are retro-fitted to provide a paper trail, we can then see how the Virginia legislature reacts in turn, and then address whether to retro-fit our DREs or whether to purchase optical scan machines, or adopt some middle course that will meet all state and federal requirements.  

 

 

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