Local Government

County clerks hope election funds will support new equipment

Mary Ann Saxbery places her ballot into the voting machine April 3 at Melrose Chapel in Quincy during the primary election. | H-W File Photo/Michael Kipley
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Apr. 13, 2018 9:05 am

QUINCY -- Four voting machines broke down in Adams County during the March primary election. That was about half the breakdowns Adams County Clerk Chuck Venvertloh saw during the previous election.

"When the ballots slide into it, sometimes it will quit reading ballots, or sometimes it will jam," Venvertloh said. "So I have to run a different machine out. It just seems the last couple years, we had more fails."

The county's optical scan voting machines are 12 years old. Venvertloh says regular maintenance is performed on the machines, but breakdowns still occur.

Some support could possibly on the way, as Congress approved $380 million to upgrade equipment nationwide as part of its effort to prevent a repeat of 2016, when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security determined that Russian hackers tried to breach election systems in 21 states.

Illinois is the only state to publicly acknowledge hackers succeeded in accessing its voter registration system and 76,000 active voter registration records.

Illinois would receive more than $13 million from the congressional plan, which includes a required 5 percent match that the State Board of Elections said it included in its budget request.

However, the $13 million is less than 10 percent of the $147 million it received more than a decade ago from the federal Help America Vote Act, which allowed states to overhaul their voting systems. The state also was unable to receive about $4 million a year in grant funds for voter-registration system security that wasn't available from the State Board of Elections during the two-year state budget impasse.

"Most of us (clerks) are hoping it's voting equipment," Venvertloh said. "I know there is some scrambling going on about whether it would be used for voting equipment or security for the elections. It can probably go either way."

Venvertloh estimated that new voting equipment would cost at least $500,000 for the county.

Pike County Clerk Donnie Apps is sure all election officials are hoping that the money is released for equipment purchases. Pike County's voting equipment is 14 years old and still operates well.

"We've not had any problems with our equipment," Apps said. "They come in and we have it gone through every year to get it ready for the election. We've not had much trouble, but still, it's 14 years old."

Apps said more than 95 percent of ballots are submitted on paper with the optic scan system, with digital voting machines available for those with disabilities.

Illinois' lack of election infrastructure investment has put the state in a tough spot, particularly given the federal government's warning that another Russian attempt at interfering with the November election is likely.

Even if the state had enough funds, there wouldn't be enough time to completely overhaul its voting infrastructure before November. The last effort to completely upgrade voting equipment, under the Help America Vote Act, took years.

State elections officials are moving cautiously on the best way to spend limited funds during the narrow window.

"I want to do whatever we can in the next seven months," Christina Cray, director of legislation for the State Board of Elections, told the House Election Security Committee earlier this month.

Looking forward, Venvertloh said if the county were ever to switch to electronic voting, it would likely be a version that would still print a paper ballot for voters to review and then place in the scanner machine.

"Worst case though, I still need to gets up-to-date optical scanners, even if we don't go to electronic means," he said.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.