Secretary of State Mark Martin has decided to purchase a statewide, integrated voting system, including new voting equipment, through a Nebraska-based company although its proposal costs millions more than systems offered by two other companies.
The company, Elections Systems & Software (ES&S), submitted a proposal costing $29,928,868; California-based Unisyn Voting Solutions submitted $24,407,805; and Austin, Texas-based Hart InterCivic proposed $18,789,997, Martin spokesman Chris Powell said Monday.
When it requested proposals from companies, Martin's office said they couldn't exceed $30 million.
"The primary factor in the selection of ES&S was capabilities," Powell said.
Elections Systems & Software's "system met every requirement that we asked for," Powell explained in an email. "Also, we felt that ES&S would be able to implement a new system in a more timely manner."
Martin is a Republican from Prairie Grove who is serving his second term.
The secretary of state hasn't yet signed a contract with Elections Systems & Software, Powell said.
"This was not a bidding process. This was a request for proposal, and the secretary selected a proposed system. Whenever funding becomes available and we are prepared to purchase the system, a contract will be drafted and signed at that time, " he said.
In April, an official for Unisyn Voting Solutions said the request for proposal issued by Martin's office on April 15 favored Elections Systems & Software -- a claim disputed by both Martin's office and Elections Systems & Software.
Elections Systems & Software retained Legacy Consulting -- whose senior partner Doug Matayo is Martin's former chief deputy secretary of state -- for "consulting purposes related to advising ES&S on strategic growth and planning, " an Elections Systems & Software spokesman has said. Martin has said that Matayo hadn't contacted his staff about its plans to purchase new voting equipment.
In 2005, Martin's predecessor -- Bryant Democrat Charlie Daniels-- also purchased voting equipment through Election Systems & Software for about $15 million and also awarded the company a $4.9 million contract to provide the state's voter registration system.
Martin's office re-signed a contract with Election Systems & Software for the voter registration system a few years ago, according to his office.
Susan Inman, executive director of the Arkansas County Election Commissioners Association, said most counties "are fine" with Elections Systems & Software because it's a known entity.
While most people should have "heartburn" about Martin selecting the firm that submitted the most expensive proposal, "most counties aren't going to care because they are going to get free [voting] equipment," said Inman, a Democrat who lost to Martin in November.
Officials for Elections Systems & Software, Unisyn Voting Solutions and Hart InterCivic could not be reached for comment late Monday.
Powell said Monday that the secretary of state's office doesn't plan to implement the new system before the 2016 primary.
In last month's special session, the Republican-controlled Arkansas Legislature enacted a bill moving the presidential primary and other primary elections from May 24 to March 1, enabling voters to cast presidential ballots on the same day as other Southern states.
But the Pulaski County Election Commission questioned last month whether Martin should delay his plans to replace the state's voting machines and instead wait until 2017 to overhaul the voting machines in the state's 75 counties.
In its request for proposals, the secretary of state's office said it was considering replacing the voting equipment in 75 Arkansas counties "with a sole-source integrated voting system allowing for automation and full integration between polling place equipment and voter registration system(s)."
These pieces of equipment would allow voters to cast paper ballots or mark their votes on electronic screens.
"If the project succeeds, the vendor shall be responsible for complete replacement, installation, training, testing and maintenance, including bridge maintenance for existing systems, no later than March 1, 2016," the request for proposal stated. The maximum price tag for the project would be $30 million, according to the request for proposal.
Martin's office extended the deadline for companies to submit proposals from May 4 until May 12 and changed its specifications for the voting equipment after officials for at least two companies said certain requirements in the request for proposals favored Elections Systems & Software.
While Elections Systems & Software has employed Matayo's consulting firm, Unisyn Voting Solutions hired the lobbying firm of Mullenix & Associates of Hot Springs, which includes former Republican state Rep. Ted Mullenix of Hot Springs and his wife, Julie Mullenix.
Powell, the spokesman for the secretary of state, said Monday that "we are continuing the process of finding a funding stream to purchase the new system."
Asked when the new system would be installed, Powell said, "There is no target date for installation at this time. As I said before, funding is still not available. Therefore, until funding can be secured, we cannot implement the new system."
Metro on 06/16/2015