COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio counties could soon get some money from the state to help replace aging voting equipment.
About $114.5 million would be allocated to Ohio’s 88 counties to buy new voting machines under a proposal unveiled Thursday by Sen. Frank LaRose. Most voting machines here were purchased in 2005 and 2006 with money from the federal Help America Vote Act.
In recent years, county officials have said they’re unable to find parts, and some have resorted to makeshift repairs using unconventional materials or parts from dead machines.
Elections officials and lawmakers agreed last year that new equipment is needed before the 2020 election, but they haven’t been able to agree on how to pay for the upgrades. Secretary of State Jon Husted, the state’s chief elections official and a candidate for lieutenant governor, estimated new voting equipment would cost at least $118 million.
Counties that have already bought new machines would receive a portion of a $10 million pot of money to cover those costs under Senate Bill 135, LaRose said at a news conference.
LaRose, a Hudson Republican, is running for secretary of state in the November election.
Democratic Rep. Kathleen Clyde, LaRose’s likely November opponent, said money for the upgrades should come from the state capital budget bill that typically passes with broad bipartisan support.
“Using a different unknown process for voting machine funding adds uncertainty and could result in further controversial changes to our election laws,” Clyde said in a statement. “This looks like a blatant political maneuver for one party to score points.”
Clyde said state funding should encourage use of paper ballots verified by voters, which would safeguard Ohio’s elections against potential attacks.
The County Commissioners Association of Ohio and the Ohio Association of Election Officials sought $175 million, which they said would cover about 85 percent of costs. Both associations on Thursday supported LaRose’s proposal.
Senate Bill 135 would divide money among counties based on how many registered voters each has. The bill doesn’t require counties to buy a certain type of voting equipment; about half the counties use electronic voting machines and about half use paper ballots that are then scanned by a machine.
LaRose said the amount would cover most of the cost if the county chooses lower-cost optical scanning machines, but there’s no mandate to do so. Equipment must be approved by federal and state officials.
“Each county should make the decision based on what they think is best for their county,” LaRose told lawmakers on the Senate Finance Committee.
Lake County Commissioner Daniel Troy said the costs of conducting elections have outpaced county budgets. The bill also allows counties to collectively buy equipment for lower prices.
- 0-19,000 registered voters will get a base amount of $205,000;
- 20,000-99,999 registered voters will get $250,000;
- more than 100,000 registered voters will get $406,000.
Remaining funds would be allocated on a per-voter basis.
LaRose said he hopes the bill will pass later this month, and counties will have new equipment in place for elections in 2019.
Husted said once funding has been secured, elections officials will then have to negotiate prices for the equipment and train 35,000 poll workers how to use the new machines.
“We need to act now to make sure this process is completed and tested in 2019 – well in advance of the 2020 presidential election,” Husted said in a statement.