Government & Politics

JoCo voting machines reaching end of lifespan. New ones will have a paper trail

Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker demonstrates the new voting machines with paper ballots.
Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker demonstrates the new voting machines with paper ballots.

Johnson County's voting machines are more than 15 years old, and provide no paper trail.

But that's about to change.

The Johnson County Commission on Thursday discussed the purchase of about 2,100 new voting machines, at a cost of about $10.5 million. The formal vote for that purchase is scheduled May 17.

"These new machines will provide the latest technology with significantly improved features, most important of which is the voter verifiable paper audit trail," Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker said.

"This allows individuals to see a record of their votes on paper before they cast their ballot and it allows the county to maintain paper records of every vote."

The current machines date from 2002 and were reaching the end of their useful lifespan.

The new machines are still electronic and touch-screen, as they have been for years in Johnson County.

But under the new system, Metsker said, a voter feeds a blank paper ballot into the machine and votes. The machine then provides a printed copy of the ballot for the voter to review the selections. The voter then feeds it back into the machine and hits "cast ballot." The machine then scans and tabulates those choices and drops the paper ballot into a secure container.

Metsker said this new purchase increases security and transparency for voters and protects the integrity of the county's election process. He said it was not the result of any activism by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach but is a trend across the country.

"It's a change and a transition in the technology," he said. "There is a changing culture nationally in what is acceptable as it pertains to the voter's ballot and ballot security."

The county had budgeted $13 million for the purchase, but the equipment plus ongoing maintenance is expected to cost less than $11 million. The machines are expected to last 10 to 15 years, although their computer software will have to be updated as needed.

About 1,000 of the new machines should be in place for the August primary, which has a lower voter turnout. All 2,100 machines should be in place for the November general election.

The vendor, Election Systems & Software, was chosen from a competitive request for proposals process.

Johnson County got a better price, Metsker said, because it collaborated with Wyandotte, Shawnee and Sedgwick counties, so they were all able to achieve some efficiencies and savings in the purchase.

More information about the primaries is at https://jocoelection.org/.

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