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Its Elections Equipment “Old Enough to Vote,” County Approves $545,000 For New Machines

| May 2, 2016

Elections Systems and Software

The Elections System and Software Model DS200 voting machine similar to the sort that the county will buy by year’s end. (Elections Systems and Software)

Flagler County’s voting equipment is so old, Supervisor of Elections Kaiti Lenhart said this morning, that the machines are “old enough to vote this year”: They’re turning 18.

Monday morning, the Flagler County Commission approved a $545,000 spending plan to buy the new equipment and have it in place for the November 2018 municipal elections in Bunnell and Flagler Beach (assuming the Legislature doesn’t try again to require that those elections coincide with general election schedules, as it did this year, a plan Bunnell opposed). The amount is considerably lower than an estimate closer to $800,000 a few years ago, Lenhart said.

This year’s voters, in what is expected to be one of the heaviest election seasons since 2008, will have to contend with the old equipment.

The equipment will not arrive in the county until fall, possibly after the November election. The office doesn’t have time to implement the machines this year. “I have to train my staff first of all, and then train the 200-plus poll workers in order to use it. Then you have to have some voter education, because when you go to vote you’re accustomed to the same type of equipment,”  Lenhart said. “Staff is going to be pretty worn out by the end of this year,” Lenhart said, “and you don’t want to bring in a brand new system with a team that’s pretty tired, and all the poll workers as well. You really have to time it correctly.”

All county elections supervisors are under a state mandate to modernize their voting equipment by 2020. “We’ve had this on the radar for a couple of years now,” Lenhart said. “I’ve been able to negotiate with the Department of State to secure for our county a $147,000 grant for the purchase of this voting system, so it’s a very exciting time. We can use that grant money to supplement the purchase of that.”

kaiti lenhart

Kaiti Lenhart, Flagler County’s elections supervisor.(© FlaglerLive)

That leaves a roughly $400,000 bill for county taxpayers to pick up. Barbara Revels, who chairs the commission, was under the impression that the county had been setting aside $250,000 a year (starting last year) to ensure that when the time came, it had at least some of the money to pay for the upgrade.

The money was in the bank until recently. It no longer is. “We had set aside $250,000 this year but we wound up having to spend that on some IT issues for the sheriff’s department,” County Administrator Craig Coffey said. “So we are starting again, but we will probably finance this or we will find the reserve to pay this eventually from. Tax dollars pay for elections equipment.” The sheriff’s office’s data systems, which are managed by the county since 2014, had to have serious upgrades of their own since last year, costing more money than the county had expected, or budgeted.

The county issued a request for proposal which by the end of March drew two submissions, one from Elections Systems and Software of Omaha, Neb., and one from Dominion Voting Systems in Denver. Elections Systems and Vendor won out by proposing initial savings of $55,000 and recommending annual maintenance costs of $43,000, which amounts to $8,000 less than Dominion’s maintenance total.

Elections Software’s total price is $493,000. But if, as the county is considering, the payments are stretched over three years, the cost will total $515,000. If the cost is stretched over five years, the cost rises to $557,000. That’s without figuring in the state grant, which would lessen those totals.

voting machines flagler

Current voting machines.

For voters, the end result will not be much different than what’s in place now. It’ll only look different. But voters will still fill out paper ballots and feed those ballots into a machine like the one pictured above.

“There is nothing other than a paper ballot in the state of Florida, so the tabulators are going to be the same type of equipment, just a newer version of that,” Lenhart said. “Then the touch-screen is going away. It’s going to be replaced with ADA-accessible piece of equipment.”

But there will be improvements voters will sense on election night: “The new machines will transmit results by encrypted wireless modem, ” Lenhart said, “which means faster results on election night from precincts. Analog phone lines which are used now, are being replaced with digital lines and many precincts are not currently able to modem results. Those machines are transported to the Elections Office on election night for direct upload.”

Current equipment is  past its “end of life,” and replacement parts are becoming harder to find. “The memory cards, we do have an issue with them, they tend to lock up, and that kind of thing, just because they’re that old,” Lenhart said.

“All of us have been in there to witness that,” Revels said.

“Not to be critical but I must compliment the old equipment because it’s been very good to me,” said Commissioner George Hanns, who’s not lost an election since his first in 1992, before the current set of equipment was in use.

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11 Responses for “Its Elections Equipment “Old Enough to Vote,” County Approves $545,000 For New Machines”

  1. Wishful Thinking says:

    This one takes the cake with chutzpah topping ! My car is 18 years old and doing just fine – our home is 29 years old and we pay over $3,000 property taxes a year ( imagine how we suffer to have to live in such an old ‘ house’ ..
    And our current lousy antiquated Water System for Plantation Bay and environs, was USED when it was installed 30 years ago in 1986 and the county has not replaced that YET !
    We have never in 14 years voting in Flagler County had any trouble with the very convenient easy to use machines – lots better than the ‘chad’ we had in Miami-Dade County.
    “If something isn’t broken don’t fix it”..
    The Voting Machines are just fine.
    What is broken and needs immediately replacement is some County Hall staff who have no idea that their fiduciary is first and solely to the taxpayers for necessary services for our health, welfare and safety – and for no other reason.

  2. Bc. says:

    Why do we let our elected officials waste are tax dollars. Are they smarter than us or are we just a bunch of dumb asses to allow this waste to keep going on. It’s time to clean house and vote them all out. I am sure the old machines work just fine. And I am also sure someone has there hand in this to waste our tax dollars to benefit from this wast of your money.

  3. Oldseadog says:

    …”The money was in the bank until recently. It no longer is. “We had set aside $250,000 this year but we wound up having to spend that on some IT issues for the sheriff’s department,” County Administrator Craig Coffey said……………….”

    WOW—————-Does anyone else wonder just what the elected Flagler County Government members do to earn their pay?

  4. K says:

    Did you miss the first sentence in the fifth paragraph?

    “All county elections supervisors are under a state mandate to modernize their voting equipment by 2020.”

    Stop blaming “some County Hall staff.” They are following a state of Florida mandate.

    And very conservatively and responsibly, I might add. Great job to our Supervisor of Elections for procuring a grant and taking her time to implement this new system properly.

  5. Tara says:

    Weeks had failing equipment and asked for funding since 2010 but like everything else she needed the county refused to cooperate. I remember it being reported by the media that the county was preparing for the purchase a little each year. With that being said, the county should have a the needed funds for the purchase in full. It’s irresponsible for the current SOE to even consider purchasing new voting equipment in a year with 3 elections. When it takes an hour and a half to get all reporting precincts in for the last election I would hope Supervisor Lenhart is focusing on the primary and general elections preparations and not show boating. It’s nothing to smile about when precincts haven’t reported timely, and it’s certainly not the fault of the voting equipment when the polls close at 7 pm and results aren’t up until 8:20 pm. Maybe Weeks just had us spoiled getting all results in so quickly-even when using the same aged equipment.

  6. blondee says:

    This is needed about as much as we need a new face on the $20 bill.

  7. Brad W says:

    I have to say that I am really impressed with Kaiti Lenhart since she has been appointed to the Supervisor of Elections position after Kimberle Weeks resigned a year ago. She was facing tough challenges not only with having a special election but also a Presidential Election, local elections, and her own campaign. To say she has stepped up and faced those challenges head on and with a lot of success is an understatement. She has made efforts to improve communications, rebuild Elections Office relationships with the public and local leaders after the damage her predecessor had done. And he she is leading the charge gaining a sizable grant to help to pay for the voting machine upgrade requirement and having a smart and clear plan to transition efficiently.

    Kaiti is not only proven to be a great Supervisor of Elections in our community thus far, but also a model for other elected officials in our community. I am really impressed with her, and as a community I think we would be foolish to not keep her in that role when we go to the polls in August.

  8. Kaiti Lenhart says:

    The biggest challenge facing your Elections Office is our current voting system. Our equipment turns 18 years old this year. Florida law requires our ADA accessible equipment be upgraded by the year 2020.
    Parts for replacement and repair are becoming harder to find and as the system continues to age, the technology becomes less compatible.

    A great example is our current precinct reporting. Results come in from the precincts by fax modem. Analog phone lines are being replaced by digital lines and many of our precincts cannot modem in results on election night. This equipment must be delivered to the Elections Office for direct upload, causing a delay in results reporting. We test the phone lines prior to each election to make sure the connection can be made and the 18-year-old modems are working properly, however, they cannot transmit results on a new, digital phone line. The new equipment will transmit results by encrypted wireless modem, making results reporting nearly instant at the close of polls on election night, after 7:00 P.M.

    This voting system was never designed to last forever.Estimates from a few years ago put a new system around $800,000. With the competitive bid RFP process, our cost will be closer to $550,000. We knew it was going to be expensive, but what can be done to mitgate the cost to our county tax payers? Federal grant funding has not been received in the Elections Office since 2010. I have been leading the effort to negotiate with the Department of State to secure Federal grant funds to help THIRTEEN counties across the state of Florida, including Flagler, to upgrade their aged voting systems. Over $147,000 is available for Flagler County at a state-level to offset the cost of this purchase.

    Is this a good time in an election year as your new Supervisor of Elections? I am well aware that no one likes spending tax dollars. As a tax payer myself, I expect our elected officials to make cost-effective and reasonable decisions. To me, it would be wasteful and irresponsible to wait to apply for political reasons and miss out on this important grant. The Department of State deadline is June 30th. I am a public servant and a mindful steward of your tax dollars. I have returned $50,000 to the Board of County Commissioners from the inherited FY 14-15 budget and saved over $6,500 on the cost of printed ballots during the last election with Ballot ON Demand technology during early voting. It’s about time that someone stepped up to serve the voters of this county for the right reasons, without political motivations and without fear of political retaliation. It is essential for the integrity of the Elections Office that the Supervisor of Elections remain completely non-partisan and work towards what is in the best interest of voters of Flagler County. We are facing a state mandate to upgrade and voters deserve a reliable voting system at the best price.

    I’m posting this as myself, as your SOE. Not hiding behind screen names. I am proud of this important accomplishment for the voters of Flagler County. Your vote counts!

  9. confidential says:

    The former SOE Weeks asked for this equipment for 6 years and the FCBOCC witch hunt bounced her request every time given the cost as our tax contributions went by the millions instead to buy derelict overpriced utilities, land and contaminated real estate from their buddies. Good luck with your equipment goal.

  10. Wishful Thinking says:

    Appreciate our elected official responding openly to us… No beef with her… It’s those up there who their priorities ass backward: no money to beautify our gateways to even justify the always squandering the hard income our tourists have to cough up on their visits to the Land of Enchantment which money all goes to the tourism Gang – it doesn’t go for medical research… It does not go anywhere towards the health welfare or safety of the community… First things first – ” we the people” then the other stuff. How did democracy work before voting machines??? Good old paper ballots – the ones that are being pushed to all of us to use to vote absentee – so why not just mail us all ballots at home and be done with it! Finger print us like they do in Venezuela, Denmark and other countries… Paper and ink cost a lot less than almost a million bucks for a county of 100,000 not 10,000,000. Thanks Katie – your trying to do a good job – it isn’t your fault that the majority of county staff doesn’t feel about US the way you feel about US…

  11. Oldseadog says:

    Well said Kaiti……………………….BRAVO ZULU (in old Navy terms)

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