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story.lead_photo.caption State election coordinator Josh Bridges explains how the new voting equipment works Friday at the state Capitol. Chris Powell, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, said the equipment won’t be connected to the Internet and can’t be hacked. - Photo by Thomas Metthe

The secretary of state's office believes that just over two-thirds of the state's counties will have new voting equipment by the time of the November general election.

In one of the latest developments, the office has signed contracts with 10 counties to provide new voting equipment to them with the counties and the state splitting the tab, the chief deputy in the secretary of state's office said Friday.

Chief Deputy Kelly Boyd said he expects similar contracts to be signed with 11 other counties soon, and on top of that, 10 other counties are working with the office to finalize voting equipment requirements to clear the way for signing contracts.

Twenty-one of the state's 75 counties used the new voting equipment provided by Nebraska's Election Systems & Software during the May 22 primaries, he said.

"It is my hope right now that we have 52 counties and 66 percent of the registered voters in the state capable of voting on new equipment in November, and then I don't know where it will go after that," Boyd said in an interview.

"I would love to be able to do the entire state, [but] we just don't have the money," he said. "I'm not sure every county wants to do it."

The new equipment replaces machines installed in 2006, Boyd said.

Boyd is chief deputy for term-limited Republican Secretary of State Mark Martin of Prairie Grove, whose term ends in January.

Republican Land Commissioner John Thurston of East End, Democrat and veteran election official Susan Inman of Little Rock and Libertarian Chris Olson of Viola are vying to succeed Martin in the Nov. 6 general election.

The secretary of state's office expects to spend $11.04 million for new equipment already in place, under contract or contracts under final preparation, and for the counties to spend $8.17 million toward their new voting equipment, according to figures provided by Boyd.

Boyd said he expects the secretary of state's office to receive $4.4 million in federal funds next week and use the funds to help purchase new voting equipment in other counties.

Last year, a legislative panel narrowly rejected a bill that would have transferred $18.5 million in surplus funds from the state Insurance Department's trust fund to the secretary of state's office to buy new voting equipment. The state budget administrator told lawmakers that under the law, a surplus of that trust fund would go to fund the state Revenue Stabilization Act that distributes general revenue to programs.

Boyd said the secretary of state's office required counties to split the cost of the new equipment with the state, starting last year.

The 10 counties that have signed new contracts to get new equipment include Craighead and Pope, according to the list provided by Boyd.

Craighead County's share will be $279,228, said Jennifer Clack, election coordinator for that county's Election Commission.

She said Craighead County's new equipment will include 120 Express Vote electronic machines into which a voter inserts a paper ballot and touches the screen to pick candidates. The voter then receives a paper listing his choices. The voter puts the paper into one of 30 DS200 tabulating machines for the ballot to be counted.

Craighead County also will get 52 pollbooks, Clack said. Pollbooks contain voter registration information.

"I am thrilled with this technology," she said. "This will be much simpler. It takes a lot of human error out of the equation. We will be able to get results out faster."

Boyd noted, "None of the voting equipment is connected to the Internet.

"The pollbooks are, but that's just voter registration data and that is so if you go in and vote out here you can't go over here and vote, too," he said.

The vulnerability of American voting equipment has become an issue in the past couple of years. The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee reported in May that in at least six unidentified states, "Russian-affiliated cyber actors" conducted "malicious access attempts on voting-related websites" in the 2016 elections, according to The Associated Press. The Department of Homeland Security has said there were attempts to hack into the election systems of 21 states, but the extent of the hacking has been unclear in some cases. The federal government says there's no evidence that vote tallies were affected.

Chris Powell, a spokesman for the secretary of state's office, said the new equipment can't be hacked.

"These machines are among the latest election technology in the country. The USB media that is used is encrypted. The machines also have physical locks on them as well," he said.

The Pope County Quorum Court appropriated $191,013 for that county's share of the new equipment, said Pope County Clerk Laura McGuire.

The new equipment will include 60 Express Vote machines, 15 DS200 vote tabulators and 26 pollbooks, she said.

"I would have loved to have it in the primary [on May 22], but it didn't work out that way," McGuire said.

She said she's excited to get the new equipment.

Pulaski and Saline counties are among the counties that don't have plans to purchase new equipment in advance of the Nov. 6 election, Boyd said.

He said Pulaski County's share and the state's share would be roughly $2 million apiece.

"I hope that they [Martin's successor] can work with Pulaski County and see efficiencies," Boyd said.

"Every time we have an election, we get a better handle on what equipment is needed for an election and we have made significant reductions with some of these counties now, so maybe Pulaski County wouldn't need as much. I don't know. You vote real quickly on this new equipment. You eliminate the delays, but Pulaski County has heavy turnout, so I don't know."

Bryan Poe, election director for the Pulaski County Election Commission, said, "We definitely would like to have new voting equipment," but the last estimate would cost the county roughly $1.5 million.

"We feel confident we can make it through the next election" with the current equipment, he said.

"We'll start having discussions and see if the state can come up [with funding] since the state made the selection [of equipment] for us," said Poe.

As for Saline County, Boyd said, "We went down and [demonstrated] to their county last year and we had an agreement where it was about $1 million.

"They were going to pay $500,000 and we were going to pay $500,000 of it and I was prepared to do them, and they've backed out, so they are not getting it right now," he said.

Darlene Westbrook, election coordinator in Saline County, referred questions about Boyd's remarks to county clerk Doug Curtis. Westbrook said Curtis wouldn't be in his office until Monday.

"I think it will be nice when we get new equipment," Westbrook said.

In June 2015, Martin decided to purchase new voting equipment as part of a statewide integrated system through Election Systems & Software, although its proposal cost millions more than systems offered by two other companies.

Election Systems & Software submitted a proposal costing $29.9 million; Unisyn Voting Solutions of California submitted a bid of $24.4 million; and Hart Inter-Civic of Austin, Texas, proposed $18.7 million.

"The primary factor in the selection of ES&S was capabilities," Powell said three years ago to explain why the vendor was selected over the two competitors.

Boyd said Friday that the office has a pricing agreement with Election Systems & Software.

"I don't have to buy another piece of equipment the rest of the state's life. But if I buy it, this is the price," he said. "There's been some confusion about that. The only requirement [is the] secretary of state selects the equipment that will be purchased. The counties do not have to do this at all, but if they do, they have to purchase this equipment. That's by law and in the code."

In 2005, Martin's predecessor -- Bryant Democrat Charlie Daniels -- also purchased voting equipment through Election Systems & Software for about $15 million.

A map showing new voting equipment.

A Section on 06/02/2018

Print Headline: State, counties working to upgrade election gear

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  • LR1955
    June 2, 2018 at 10:02 a.m.

    Is any state set up for online voting? I just can’t help but think there’s a way to do this with all the verification methods out there.

  • RBBrittain
    June 2, 2018 at 11:37 a.m.

    @LR1955: IIRC Arkansas already allows military & overseas ballots to be cast online due to the vagaries of APO/FPO and international mail. As for the rest of us, the level of security needed to allow voting machines to be connected to the Internet simply doesn't exist yet. In fact, even AFTER this push we will STILL have one county (Union) using pre-2006 voting machines with NO paper trail, as required for all newer machines by state law to protect against hacking (offline as well as online). I agree with Paul Greenberg's column the other day that BOTH Union AND Ouachita Counties (the remaining ones with pre-2006 machines) should be at the head of the line, but SOS Martin only put Ouachita there.
    I'm also disturbed that the pollbooks will have Internet access. It may be necessary, but though it's unclear if Comrade Putin hacked into any voting machines (IMO unlikely as very few of them are online), he DID hack into some states' registration databases.

  • RBBrittain
    June 2, 2018 at 11:46 a.m.

    Seems Lonoke County isn't getting new ones either. Perhaps Martin is waiting on a competent election commission to be seated there, instead of the incompetent one that conducted the May election -- stored voting machines improperly, can't handle USB drives properly, failed to provide Democratic ballots to a polling place with a contested Dem mayoral race. The commission blamed the county clerk; the Dems blamed Martin; I say it's the commission itself.

  • mhck52
    June 2, 2018 at 3:19 p.m.

    And, not all of Saline County gets to use the computerized equipment it has now; only for special elections when the entire county isn't voting. Step children.

  • RBBrittain
    June 3, 2018 at 3:59 a.m.

    @mhck52: That sounds like Pulaski too, except Pulaski has ballot box scanners at every polling place as well as touchscreens; not sure about Saline, but most counties other than Pulaski with paper ballots have scanners only at the election commission. Since NO computer, even an offline one, is truly "unhackable" (no matter what ES&S or Martin says), manually marked scannable paper ballots are the safest voting method out there, because the ballot itself is the scannable AND visible paper trail; the paper trail on the existing touchscreens isn't 100% foolproof, and I have a feeling the new machines have a similar flaw (i.e., they *could* print one candidate on the paper trail/ballot in text, but another candidate in the barcode that's actually counted). It doesn't keep me from early voting on the touchscreens (more convenient for me), but sometimes old-school is still best.