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Board of Elections to purchase upgraded voting equipment using federal grant

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — The Rowan County Board of Elections on Tuesday approved the purchase of 42 upgraded voting machines and one central scanner and tabulator using a federal grant.

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. Additionally, in past elections, including the 2020 general election, the board has borrowed from Iredell County a DS450 central scanner and tabulator to conduct recounts. That machine is provided by the state and available for use by surrounding counties, but with an associated cost for operation.

Discussion of purchasing new ES&S ExpressVote machines began in March, and since then, board members have attended the mandatory virtual public demonstrations hosted by Microsoft teams and a simulated election, led by ES&S, to test the equipment’s accuracy.

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 used around $40,000 to offset some costs in the 2020 general election, including two voting machine rentals and the tabulator used during the recount.

The total cost of the 42 new voting machines for each precinct, the software and one DS450 machine amounts to $206,176. But since the board only has $205,220 remaining from the federal grant, Rowan County Board of Elections Director Brenda McCubbins suggested deducting the cost of training for the 42 ExpressVote machines since the board is now familiar with the equipment, which reduces the cost by $1,700 and allows the purchase to be fully funded by the HAVA grant.

However, required with the purchase of the DS450 machine is a yearly warranty and maintenance cost of about $4,300, which was “an irritant” to board member Dave Collins since the machine may only be used during major elections. While both board members George Benson and Catrelia Hunter made motions to purchase the equipment based on McCubbins’ suggestion, Collins and board member Mary Blanton voted against the purchase due to the yearly maintenance fee. Board chair John Hudson was the tie-breaking vote in favor of the purchase. The motion carried 3-2.

“I’m for it because we’re not relying on anyone but ourselves,” Benson said during the meeting.

Hunter said “there are uncertainties all around” for either decision, but that the board should proceed with the purchase while it has the funds to do so.

Beginning 2022-23, McCubbins said the county will need to purchase a few additional ExpressVote voting machines to keep as spares. Each machine costs around $3,300.

Also at the meeting, McCubbins said the state board has authorized county boards to destroy physical copies of election records from 2019 and earlier. State law outlines guidance and a schedule for retaining such records.

Additionally, McCubbins told board members she will complete her Certification Program for Election and Voter Registration Professionals by June 27.

The board does not plan to meet again for a regular meeting until July 20 when the newly appointed county board members are sworn in. The State Board of Elections will formally recommend county members on June 29. The county board will appoint precinct judges at the Aug. 17 meeting.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246. 

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