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story.lead_photo.caption In this file photo Secretary of State John Thurston is shown speaking to supporters the night he was elected. - Photo by Staton Breidenthal

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

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Archived Comments

  • TuckerMax
    August 23, 2019 at 5:34 a.m.

    It's discounted because Russians wrote the software with a back door in.

  • RBear
    August 23, 2019 at 6:37 a.m.

    Of course, Thurston is promoting a company who believes security by obscurity is the best policy. Anyone with a security background knows that's about as stupid as they come. ES&S CEO Tom Burt once said, “exposing technology in these kinds of environments makes hacking elections easier, not harder, and we suspect that our adversaries are paying very close attention.”
    ...
    From an article in TechCrunch, "Days later, NSA cybersecurity chief Rob Joyce criticized the response. ;Ignorance of insecurity does not get you security,' he tweeted. 'The investigation of these devices by the hacker community is a service, not a threat.'”
    ...
    Quite honestly, ES&S is one of the worst at actually vulnerability and penetration testing of their equipment. Numerous flaws have been found over the years and, instead of improving the technology, they just kept selling the old technology. The only reason they are still around is they recently announced a switch from all-electronic to having a paper record of the vote.

  • einnorray
    August 23, 2019 at 7:52 a.m.

    Great! However, the issue is not price alone. Please explain how the 15% was calculated since there was no competitive public bid for a base price? What are the assurances as to the quality and security data risk factors for this chosen product versus other products on the market. Folks, this is the electronic foundation and integrity of our election system, our democracy. Serious issues merits a serious and deliberate discussion and response in the cyber age.

  • sofferssbcglobalnet
    August 23, 2019 at 9:51 a.m.

    This issue is more than price, it is preventing voter fraud. The ES&S System is a secure system. A few of us caught what we believed was a flaw in the cheaper system which permits the same ballot activation coded printed tape to be used on more than one ballot marker which would permit one person to vote multiple times. It is my understanding that company recognized the flaw and submitted a modification to the US Election Assistance Commission on May 15, 2019 for testing. That means the modified item is not approved for use in Arkansas and the process involves first EAC approval then State Board of Election Commissioners approval, a lengthy process. ES&S is an excellent company who our county has dealt with since 2006. All of this nonsense about penetration, etc., is a bunch of cyber crap simply because if a system is not in any way linked to the Internet, there is NO penetration (hacking). This other company stirred up 21 counties with the full knowledge the product they were trying to sell to Arkansas contained the flaw and their modified product was not approved for use. That means even if SOS issued another RFP, they could not have bid. Secretary Thurston made a very good call and I commend him.
    Stuart Soffer, Jefferson County Election Commissioner

  • RBBrittain
    August 23, 2019 at 9:56 a.m.

    Folks, the 15% discount is the best way SOS Thurston could find out of a bad situation created by his predecessor's bad award in 2015, as well as his fellow Republicans' decision to move next year's primaries to March (thus no time to rebid and get the new machines before the primaries). The only reasonable choices for 2020 were (a) 21 counties (including Pulaski) with worn-out ES&S iVotronic & opscan systems plus the 54 with the new ES&S system (including Union County, critically the last with no-paper-trail electronic voting, whose new machines missed the November 2018 election but went online this year), or (b) all 75 counties on the new ES&S system. The new system, with touchscreens producing a paper ballot that is tallied by another machine, are at least LESS likely to be hacked & produce a more reliable paper trail than the iVotronics, and don't have the user error & ADA issues of opscan ballots. Completing the ES&S upgrade with the discount is the best solution that can actually be implemented in Arkansas in 2020. (Einnorray, the 15% discount is off ES&S' 2015 bid; it was probably proposed by ES&S as the best way to salvage their contract against all the rebid demands.)

  • RBBrittain
    August 23, 2019 at 10:05 a.m.

    I was writing my post as Stu Soffer was writing his. Though IMO he's been off his rocker a few times as a GOP Jefferson County election commissioner (partly why I believe county election commissions should represent LOCAL instead of statewide party majorities), he is ABSOLUTELY RIGHT here. The new ES&S machines are already in use in many counties; they are far superior to anything else we have now. (RBear is 100% wrong about ES&S machines having no paper trail; they made the iVotronics we've been using with a paper trail for well over a decade, and their new system in the 59 counties has an even better paper trail.)

  • RBBrittain
    August 23, 2019 at 10:06 a.m.

    *in the 54 counties

  • RBear
    August 23, 2019 at 10:27 a.m.

    So Mr. Soffer, if ES&S is an excellent company, why do they not allow vulnerability and penetration testing against their systems? That's how ALL security systems operate these days, even DoD systems. It seems ES&S is afraid of what would be revealed, namely that they do have vulnerabilities. Based on your response about vulnerability and penetration testing, it's evident you are NOT an information security expert. In other words, these systems are ripe for the attack. Hmmm.
    ...
    BTW RBB, you might read the LAST line of my comment, "The only reason they are still around is they recently announced a switch from all-electronic to having a paper record of the vote." Their newer technology didn't have paper trails in most cases. That had to switch because people couldn't test the technology and didn't trust them.

  • RBear
    August 23, 2019 at 10:34 a.m.

    BTW if those kind of attitudes are taken by our state's "election commmissioners," no wonder our state's elections are ripe for the attack. At some point a machine has to be connected to something, either USB or network, to get code updates. It is in this process that malware can be dropped onto a device. It's pretty evident Stoffer doesn't understand these and prime reason why some of these "officials" need to take a hike and let a more tech savvy group review our elections. It's not IF, but WHEN an election will be hacked.

  • RBear
    August 23, 2019 at 10:37 a.m.

    Oh, and isn't this the same Stuart Soffer who has been accused of voter intimidation? From the ArkTimes,
    "Soffer — who made headlines earlier this year when he brandished a gun during a meeting of the Jefferson County Election Commission — applied to be a poll watcher on Oct. 18 and, according to the attorney representing Victor Johnson, 'interfered with and intimidated voters' at the Jefferson County Courthouse on Oct. 24."

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