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No Small Stuff (cont.): Voting Machines Need Batteries, Too

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[Image courtesy of buychargeall]

Usually, when I write on this blog about "there is no such thing as small stuff", it's because a jurisdiction has been bitten by a tiny detail with big consequences for its elections.

Today, however, I just wanted to share a story from Lawrence County, PA that surprised me - even though it shouldn't have. From the Ellwood City Ledger:

When Lawrence County purchased electronic voting machines more than five years ago, the batteries were included.

But after several years of recharging and reusing those batteries, they are near the end of their useful life, which stands to take a bite out of the county Department of Voter Registration and Elections' budget.

In response to a request by Ed Allison, director of Voter Registration and elections, the commissioners designated approximately $26,000 from the county contingency fund to replace the batteries in more than 250 machines at a rate of nearly $100 apiece.

The story goes on to discuss the budgetary process for the County to get those funds - as well as the prospect for partial reimbursement by the state - but to me the big story is how important power (and batteries) are to modern voting equipment.

As someone who has done his share of "plug-hunting" in airports, conference rooms and coffee shops (as I suppose many of you have as well) it's easy to understand why the batteries in the Lawrence machines would need replacing.

I don't know if it's more difficult to maintain batteries in machines which are used far less than smartphones or tablets, but it seems like the kind of topic that could and should be an opportunity for shared learning across the field.

Given the consequences of a "bricked" voting machine - remember, batteries keep machines running in the event of a power failure - it's good that the County (and its counterparts across the nation) are keeping an eye on their batteries. As anyone with a smartphone or tablet knows, it's easier said than done.

2 Comments


  • This is an example of boards not building maintenance costs into their budgets. When I purchased new machines in Ohio I knew the batteries had a three year cycle. I purchased 33% new batteries every year. Did I throw out batteries before their life expectancy? Yes, but we built the replacement cost into our budget in reasonable amounts instead of trying to come up with a large amount of money at one time years down the road. Administrators need to think about spreading costs over time.

  • This is a really good example of why I believe the voting system paradigm is shifting. These sorts of costs add up over time. The fact that these systems are hardware dependent and sit in storage for most of the year makes the sell to the county commissioners that much harder.

    Also, for the record it's not just the batteries that are "near their end of life" but also the voting systems. As shown in the movie Austin Powers, the steam roller is getting closer and closer and election officials are yelling for help but will anyone hear their call?

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