$1.1M needed for new voting equipment

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 4/16/2015, 8:04 a.m.
Richmond is hoping to borrow voting machines to use in the upcoming June 9 Democratic primaries. At the same time, ...

Richmond is hoping to borrow voting machines to use in the upcoming June 9 Democratic primaries.

At the same time, the city voter registrar is seeking more than $1.1 million from the city government to buy new voting equipment to use in the November general election.

The city is one of 30 localities facing an emergency situation involving voting machines.

The upheaval is the result of Tuesday’s action by the state Board of Elections decertifying the WINVote touch-screen machines that the 30 localities have used in their elections for 10 years.

The board’s action essentially bans the use of the WINVote machines in any future elections, including the June 9 primaries that will be held in Richmond and nine other localities.

The Free Press reported last week that the machines could be banned based on new findings that the security of the wireless WINVote machines had the potential to be breached using hacking software.

During the meeting Tuesday, the elections board, however, did not present or receive any information that the machines have been hacked or that passwords that protect the voting information had ever been bypassed.

However, “the dire potential consequences” were enough for the board to act, according to a statement issued by Edgardo Cortés, commissioner of the state Department of Elections. The action will force the 30 localities to scrap more than 2,000 machines used in 568 precincts.

Richmond Voter Registrar Kirk Showalter said she and the Richmond Electoral Board “did not wait for the decision. We’ve been preparing.”

She said the city board, led by Republican Starlet Stevens, held an emergency meeting Monday night after receiving further information and voted to begin the process of replacing the city’s 400 WINVote machines.

Even before the vote, Ms. Showalter said that she had reached out to Fairfax County officials with a request to borrow state-approved optical scan machines for the primaries that will be held in 49 Richmond precincts. Ms. Showalter said she wants to avoid the option to use paper ballots that must be counted by hand, as Botetourt County and some other localities plan to do.

Ms. Showalter said Wednesday that Fairfax County has not yet approved the request. She and board members were to travel there Thursday to seek a positive vote.

She has been advised that the county has enough equipment to handle its two primaries and also lend Richmond enough machines to use in the upcoming primary elections in the 10th and 16th Senate districts and the 69th and 74th House districts.

Unlike WINVote machines in which a voter touches the screen to select a candidate, the optical scan equipment involves a voter filling out a stiff paper ballot and putting it into a machine that scans and counts the results.

Ms. Showalter also has notified Mayor Dwight C. Jones and City Council that her office is going to need at least $1.1 million and possibly as much as $1.3 million to cover all of the projected costs involved in the purchase and use of optical scan equipment for the November elections.

The expense includes buying the machines, new voting booths, ballots and other costs, she said, including training precinct officials and educating voters.

Richmond has 65 precincts that will need replacement machines, she said, along with an upgrade to optical scan equipment used at the registrar’s office in City Hall for absentee voters.

“We also have a precinct split between two districts, so we will need additional scanners for that,” she said.

Ms. Showalter is grateful the problem arose while City Council is working on the new budget. She said she hopes council members will understand her need for an unexpected budget amendment.