Board of Elections to submit proposed budget, move forward with purchasing upgraded voting machines

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 17, 2021

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Rowan County Board of Elections members on Tuesday approved a proposed 2021-22 fiscal year budget to be submitted to the county and moved forward with purchasing nearly 50 new machines using a federal grant.

Board of Elections Director Brenda McCubbins told the Post the department will request approximately $761,500, with requests in the budget comparable to those in the 2020-21 fiscal year budget. The requested budget will be submitted to Rowan County Manager Aaron Church by Friday, with early April eyed for a budget meeting with the county. Board members anticipate adjustments.

Rowan County’s 2020-21 fiscal year budget allocated $722,410 to the Board of Elections, which amounted to $21,784 more than what was approved in the 2019-20 fiscal year.

The board received a $244,691 grant earlier this year from the federal HAVA Election Security Fund, which comes from the Help America Vote Act of 2002. The board has used around $40,000 to offset some costs in the 2020 general election, which includes two voting machine rentals and a tabulator used during the recount, McCubbins said. Around $205,000 of the grant remains.

The county currently has 49 ES&S AutoMARKS voting machines, which were received in 2006. Though still operable and without issues, they are no longer manufactured. The board agreed to move forward with purchasing 48 newer machines, known as “ExpressVote,” from ES&S. McCubbins said many counties across the state currently use the newer machines.

Each machine costs around $3,500, which leaves the board with a little more than $35,000 after the purchase. However, board members discussed the cost benefit of purchasing a DS450 central scanner and tabulator, which has been quoted at about $49,500. Board member Dave Collins said it may be beneficial since he anticipates more recounts in future elections, and the cost to rent the machine each time is around $9,000 to $10,000.

McCubbins said one is available in Iredell County for all nearby counties to rent if needed. If Rowan County were to purchase its own, however, there could be an additional cost for trained individuals to operate the machine.

Board member Mary Blanton asked about the life of the machines, and McCubbins noted the current equipment is 15 years old and still operable.

Board members asked McCubbins to look into what deals or negotiations, if any, are available to purchase the DS450 machine along with the 48 voting machines. A vote was taken to table the purchase process until then, with board chair John Hudson and Blanton opposed, saying it was worth moving forward with the 48 machines and handling the potential DS450 machine purchase as a separate issue.

Board members last week attended mandatory virtual public demonstrations hosted by Microsoft teams. The next step in the process is to submit a preliminary recommendation of the purchase to the county, which McCubbins said is necessary before a public simulated election — another requirement before purchase of the equipment. In order to aim for a tentative simulated election scheduled for April 7, board members took another vote to move forward with the purchase, with only board member George Benson in opposition.

The public simulated election, led by ES&S, will include 200 ballots per 25 precincts, with three one-stop early sites and procedures for absentee and provisional ballots. McCubbins said the simulation is intended to show the equipment’s accuracy.

Also at the meeting, members approved a formal resolution to move precinct No. 7 from Cleveland Town Hall to the West Branch of the Rowan Public Library. The new site would also serve as the one-stop early voting location during presidential elections for the western area of the county.

The board will meet again on April 13 at 12:30 p.m.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.