Things seem to be up in the air on new voting machines in Burke County, as well as other places in the state, that are required by state law.
A resolution the Burke County Board of Elections passed earlier this month is asking the state General Assembly to delay requiring the voting machines used here to be decertified and new equipment to be purchased. Burke County currently uses touch-screen voting machines (direct-recording electronic voting machines) that have a paper trail.
Current state law requires 22 counties, including Burke, to have their DRE voting systems decertified, which would force those counties to buy new voting equipment that use paper ballots. The law sets a deadline of Dec. 1, 2019, to decertify the type of voting equipment that Burke County uses, the resolution says.
The local elections board resolution, dated April 9 and signed by all five Burke County elections board members, is requesting the state legislature vote to support deferring the decertification of its election voting machines until 2022.
N.C. House Rep. Julia Howard, (R-District 77), introduced House Bill 851 on April 16 that would delay decertification until Dec. 1, 2021. The proposed bill was referred to the House committee on elections and ethics law on April 18. If it is approved in that committee, it will move to the rules, calendar and operations of the House. A similar bill — House Bill 502 — was introduced in the state House of Representatives on March 27 but it would only be for Alamance and Guilford counties. That local bill was referred on April 1 to the same committee as House Bill 851.
Deferring the requirement until 2022 would allow the state elections board more time to certify newer, modern and diverse technology, and would synchronize the state with federal elections regulations, which would reduce the risk of duplication of costs within a four-year period, the Burke County Board of Elections resolution says. The resolution says the Dec. 1 deadline fails to consider serious concerns regarding the lack of availability of certified equipment, current timelines, possible conflicting federal mandates and costs to local governments.
In addition to the bills introduced in the state legislature regarding voting and machines, roughly 40 bills related to voting have been introduced at the federal level. Some of the federal bills require an effective date of 2022. The local elections board resolution says they’re afraid if the 2019 requirement remains or the proposed 2021 date becomes law, new federal requirements would force them to have to buy new machines again in 2022.
In February, the Burke County Board of Elections requested $800,000 be put in the 2019-20 fiscal county budget for new voting equipment. The new equipment would scan paper ballots, with each precinct having one machine and the board would have six back-up machines, elections officials told county commissioners.
A county budget for 2019-20 has not been proposed yet. A proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year is typically released in May.
Patrick Gannon, public information officer for the state board of elections, said three voting machine vendors are currently undergoing the certification process to meet North Carolina law. The vendors are:
» Hart InterCivic: Verity Voting 2.2
» Clear Ballot: Clear Vote 1.4 Voting System
» ES&S: EVS 188.8.131.52 Voting System
Debbie Mace, director of elections for Burke County, said no decertification of current machines or certifications of new machines has taken place at this point. She said the local board should be testing new machines in October to meet the Dec. 1 deadline.
“It’s all up in the air, you might say,” Mace said. “There are statutory steps that have to be followed. And we’ve had no definite directions at this point in time.”
Mace said local elections boards have been told as information on machines and the process becomes available at the state board level, it will be forwarded to all the directors.
“It’s frustrating, to say the least,” Mace said.
Sharon McBrayer is a staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 828-432-8946.