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St. Charles, MO Crosses the Finish Line on New Machines

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[Image courtesy of speedendurance]

Long time readers of this blog may be familiar with the ongoing efforts of St. Charles County, MO to purchase and pay for new voting machines. Back in March 2012, I blogged about the county executive's veto of a voting machines purchase. In his veto, the executive cited the lack of a second bid, saying "[a]nytime we have $1.2 million in expenditures and only one bid, I'm going to be very suspicious." At the time, however, only one certified system was eligible for purchase in Missouri, which left St. Charles in a bit of a bind.

The County never gave up, however, and in the meantime had worked out a plan for funding its eventual purchase: lease out its existing machines to smaller jurisdictions within the county and keep the proceeds for eventual purchase of new ones.

Last week, the County announced that it had finally obtained new machines, having received the required second bid and secured approval for the purchase. From STLToday:

The County Council voted 6-1 Monday night to spend $1 million for 130 optical scan and 130 disability-capable voting machines from Unisyn Voting Solutions Inc.

County Elections Director Rich Chrismer said he expects the new machines to be delivered by June and that they should last eight to 10 years.

"I'm happy for the voters because I didn't trust the machines we had," Chrismer said Wednesday.

Chrismer has been trying to convince the council for the past year that the machines used during the last seven years are at the end of their life cycle and need to be replaced to avoid trouble at the polls. The council voted 4-1 in February 2012 to buy new machines for $1.2 million, but County Executive Steve Ehlmann vetoed that bill because only one bid had been received, and the council later withdrew the bill.

Three things about the purchase are notable. First, the county executive is likely feeling some justification about his initial veto, given that the revised purchase price is lower than the original bid. Second, the requirement of a competing bid didn't mean the County bought the lowest price machine - its first choice after testing cost about $150,000 more than the alternative. Finally, it's worth pointing out that the council vote to buy the new machines was not unanimous - even with a second bid and the fact that the funds were already available. One council member, voicing a concern that I'm willing to bet is common elsewhere, said he didn't understand the need for new equipment:

Councilman Joe Cronin, R-District 1, cast the dissenting vote Monday, saying it would cost just $12,000 to maintain the current machines for the next year and that the county doesn't need to spend $1 million on new ones now.

"The difference between the current machines and the new machines is the way the ballot is read," Cronin said. "I'm not certain we need that for $1 million."

St. Charles voters will begin using the new machines in April of 2014. It will be interesting to see how the County's procurement experience over the last year or so is illustrative of other voting equipment upgrades across the nation.

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