County accepts offer to pay $440,000 for voting machines

EL DORADO -- Union County will get new voting equipment from the state at almost no cost.

Kelly Boyd, chief deputy with the secretary of state's office, and representatives from each town in Union County attended a special meeting of the Quorum Court on Wednesday to discuss acquiring new voting machines and address any concerns about them.

The situation began in May, when the state offered to pay half the cost of new voting machines for the county. The offer was rescinded after Boyd expressed frustration at comments made by a Union County official to the News-Times concerning reported problems with the equipment that was offered.

Boyd then offered the equipment again on June 6 with the state willing to pay 100 percent of the cost, which would be around $440,000.

But Boyd then rescinded that offer, only to have Quorum Court member Dean Storey report at last week's Quorum Court meeting that it was still "on the table."

"I wanted to meet with all of you face to face," Boyd said Wednesday. "I created a controversy and I did not mean to. Please accept my apology."

Boyd said he rescinded the offer because he didn't want Union County to feel obligated to purchase the equipment.

Boyd also said the office has enough money to pay the equivalent for Union County and one other county. He said the reason Union County is first on the list is because the state paid 100 percent for Columbia County and Ouachita County, and all three southern Arkansas counties were using a different type of equipment.

"We're not doing that for other people, but we will do it for Union County because we did it for Columbia and because we did it for Ouachita and the three of you were in the same set of circumstances," Boyd said.

"If Union County elects to stay where you are right now, which is fine, I'll put that money somewhere else. I do have three or four other counties that will accept the offer, but you're first on the list."

Quorum Court members asked questions about whether the secretary of state election in November would affect plans for voting equipment, as the current officeholder is term-limited and unable to run again.

Boyd said the chances of a new secretary of state changing the equipment "is zero." He noted that the next officeholder can select additional vendors, "but I cannot see a situation in the world where the next secretary of state, as hard as a time that we've had raising money, would elect to go with all new equipment in the state."

He said he has contracts with 52 counties.

"I do believe that the entire state of Arkansas will be voting on equipment like this by 2020, or have the opportunity to," Boyd said.

Boyd told the Quorum Court that the county would not be required to use the equipment during the November election and would not have to return the old equipment.

In a letter Monday from Boyd to Mike Loftin, the county judge, Boyd stated that Union County is under no obligation to use the new system in the fall election. But the county must take the new equipment by September, he wrote.

Loftin said he had no problem taking delivery of the equipment, noting the county has storage space.

"Every day, [the system can] upload all of the poll books electronically in the county clerk's office with the same voter data," Boyd said. "Poll books are used at every location, but they do not have to be hooked to the Internet."

Boyd also went through the voting process step by step.

Boyd said the state would pay for the voting machines, 54 ExpressVote units, as well as 20 DS-200 Precinct Scanners, 38 ExpressPoll tablets with attachments and other equipment.

In addition to the equipment costs, the county would receive training and on-site election support the day before, the day of and the day after the first elections. The state also agreed to pay all yearly maintenance costs and poll book upload charges.

Essentially, the only cost to the county would be to buy ballots, which it would be purchasing anyway, Boyd said.

Quorum Court member Cliff Preston said, after reading the agreement and listening to Boyd, "I don't know why we wouldn't accept almost half a million dollars in assets to the county."

"The fact that we get to choose when, how and what we get to do with [the equipment], I think it is a plus and I don't know if we can turn down that much value to the county," Preston said.

NW Business on 07/03/2018

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