Secretary of State John Thurston has negotiated a 15% discount on the purchase of selected voting equipment through Nebraska-based Election Systems & Software and that will result in substantial savings to the 21 counties that don't have new equipment, Thurston announced Thursday.
Under Arkansas Code Annotated 7-5-503, Thurston has selected the voting equipment from the list of available equipment certified by the state Board of Election Commissioners, the secretary of state's office said in a three-sentence news release.
The secretary of state's office will now meet with individual counties to complete orders for the needed equipment, according to Thurston's office. The costs will be shared by the state and counties.
Asked whether Thurston considered taking bids, spokesman Chris Powell said in a written statement, "There was a process of re-evaluation, but a bid process is not required.
"After reviewing the equipment options, the secretary made his decision per his authority under A.C.A. 7-5-503," he said.
Baxter County Election Commissioner Bob Bodenhamer said Thursday in an interview, "I am a little disappointed they didn't put it out to bid.
"But it's up to the secretary of state," said Bodenhamer, who urged Thurston in a letter dated June 19 to seek bids.
St. Francis County Election Commissioner Frederick Freeman, who also had urged Thurston to seek bids, said, "I guess potentially competition always helps the process."
Freeman said his reaction to Thurston's decision "is something I need to kind of massage."
In 2015, Thurston's predecessor, Mark Martin, decided to purchase a statewide integrated voting system, including new voting equipment, through Election Systems & Software rather than California-based Unisyn Voting Solutions or Texas-based Hart Inter-Civic.
Fifty-four of the state's 75 counties had new voting equipment by last year's November general election, in which Thurston was elected to succeed a term-limited Martin.
During a meeting a few weeks ago with several officials in the secretary of state's office, officials from some counties disagreed about whether Thurston should seek new bids.
At that meeting, officials in the secretary of state's office said they would like to install the new voting equipment by the March 3 primary election in the 21 counties that don't have it. But the office's election director, Leslie Bellamy, said these counties wouldn't have new equipment for next year's election cycle if Thurston decides to rebid the purchase.
Officials from several counties urged the Republican secretary of state in letters to rebid the voting equipment. Those officials included Jefferson County's County Judge Gerald Robinson, Lincoln County Clerk Stephanie James and Baxter County Clerk Candace Reese.
Lee County Clerk Pam Webb, Phillips County's county judge and former state Rep. Clark Hall, and St. Francis County Election Commission Chairman Chris Oswalt also urged Thurston to approve Unisyn Voting Solution as a certified vendor to provide voting equipment.
"It is our understanding that the Unisyn system meets all the requirements and is less expensive," Hall and two other Phillips County officials said in a letter dated July 3 to Thurston. "More importantly, from the point of view of the end users, the ES&S system is too bulky and heavy for election workers to handle and will require the county to incur transportation expense for every election."
Earlier this month, the state Department of Finance and Administration transferred $8.25 million to the secretary of state's office to buy voting equipment for the 21 counties and to reimburse three counties half of what they spent on equipment.
Under Act 808 of 2019, the money was transferred out of excess revenue in the property tax relief trust fund, which is funded by a half-percent sales tax to pay for the homestead property tax credit.
A few weeks ago, Thurston's office had estimated that Benton County would be reimbursed $1.3 million; White County, $537,629; and Ashley County, $238,151.
Thurston's office had estimated that the 21 counties' share of the cost of new machines would be $6.79 million, so the total would be about $15 million.
The 21 counties are: Baxter, Bradley, Conway, Drew, Fulton, Jefferson, Lee, Lincoln, Madison, Mississippi, Monroe, Newton, Phillips, Poinsett, Pulaski, Saline, Scott, Searcy, St. Francis, Stone and Van Buren.
Officials from some counties have said their counties are so cash-strapped that they won't be able to match state funds to buy new equipment.
Metro on 08/23/2019
Print Headline: Arkansas secretary of state: Got 15% off vote gear