The need to replace aging touch-screen and optical-scan election machines is looming in Kansas and Missouri — and Harvey County is among the places needing to look at new equipment.
The bulk of electronic voting machines used in Harvey County, and the scanner used to count paper ballots, were purchased in 2006. At that time the county purchased 38 voting machines, and have added four more since then. Much of the funding came from federal grants.
"We have aging machines," said Joyce Truskett, Harvey County clerk.
Many Kansas counties, including Harvey County, purchased new equipment with the help of federal grants provided by the Help America Vote Act, passed after the Bush-Gore election in an effort to upgrade antiquated voting machines across the nation. The act required at least one ADA compliant voting machine at each polling station. In 2006 the county provided $6,000 in matching funds, then used federal grants to purchase 38 voting machines and a new optical scanner for paper ballots.
Individual voting machines can cost $2,400 or more. An optical scanner can cost $100,000. Truskett doubts there will be state or federal funds available for the replacement of equipment nearly 10 years old.
The enormous cost has left legislators and budget officers with little appetite for the job, The Kansas City Star reported recently.
According to some estimates, replacing all the voting machines in just Jackson County in Missouri and Johnson County in Kansas would cost between $10 million and $20 million. That's far more than lawmakers have set aside for such purchases.
For Harvey County the cost would be at least $200,000.
"The only replacement plan is putting money into a replacement fund," Truskett said. "I don't want to wait for this to hit and wonder what to do. … We will have something there, I doubt there will be grant funds."
Election officials say the result is that voters in the 2016 presidential election may confront old, unreliable machines.
"We're just really concerned," said Bob Nichols, the Democratic election director for Jackson County. "Going into a presidential election year with old equipment — we don't want to be another Florida."
The Presidential Commission on Election Administration described an "impending crisis" in a report issued nearly a year ago.
"What we are doing, we are keeping up on maintenance contracts to make sure they are well taken care of," Truskett said. "We don't have a lot to go around ... When we started we had about 20 percent usage by total voters. Now we are 50/50. If we had more, that percentage would go up. People go to vote and just want the fastest way."
Truskett said counties were told two years ago at a convention of county clerks it was time to start looking at new equipment. However, the state has not yet certified new equipment.
Johnson County owns 2,400 touch-screen machines purchased in the early 2000s by local taxpayers, not with federal grants. Johnson County Election Commissioner Brian Newby said the machines may be able to muddle through the 2016 election but that all bets are off after that.
"You just have to buy new equipment," he said. "Everybody buys new PCs, and that's what really has to happen."
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.