Two months after the county borrowed $1.5 million to buy 320 new voting machines, the county clerk says the county needs more.
Johnson County Clerk Trena McLaughlin will go before the Johnson County Board of Commissioners today to ask for permission to rent up to 50 voting machines for this year’s presidential elections, which are expected to produce massive voter turnouts. The county needs to secure at least 30 additional machines, she told the Election Board Tuesday.
The Election Board didn’t seek to buy more machines because the county would only use more than 320 during the presidential elections every four years, McLaughlin said.
Presidential elections typically draw more voters to the polls. During the last presidential election, about 40 percent of the county’s registered voters cast ballots during the primary, and 63 percent voted in the general election. In November, voter turnout was more than double what county election officials predicted. More than 16 percent of registered voters cast ballots, up from 9.7 percent during the last comparable election in 2015. And in 2018, 50 percent of voters cast ballots during the General Election, and that number would have been higher had the election equipment worked properly. That’s compared to only 23 percent during the last midterm election in 2014. Election officials expect an even higher turnout this year due to surprisingly high turnouts during the last two general elections.
“With the way that the election, I feel, is going to be this year, we want to work on leasing some extra machines,” McLaughlin said. “Instead of purchasing more machines, I feel like the best bet would be to lease some more machines because next year we won’t need them, nor the year after.”
Each additional machine would cost the county about $1,800. MicroVote told McLaughlin they could do a package of 50 additional voting machines for $90,000, she said.
“MicroVote has already assured me that they’ve put us first on the list, so as soon as I get approval from the commissioners, they will provide them for us,” McLaughlin said.
Another reason the county needs additional machines is because as many as 18 of the new machines will be out of commission after officials test the equipment in April, and again in October. A new state law that took effect last year made it so that counties cannot use the 5% of machines they are required to test before each election.
In November, after years of debate and pushback, county officials agreed to buy all new voting equipment and borrowed the millions of dollars that were needed to do so. Although they will use the same election vendor they rented from during last year’s municipal elections, voters will see some minor changes with the new equipment. The equipment the county bought from MicroVote is similar to what was used last year, but includes a Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail. The current system allows poll workers and election officials to view a printable audit of each ballot cast, whereas the new system will allow the voter to see that audit as well.
The county spent about $1.5 million on services and equipment, including the 320 voting machines. The Infinity Voting Machine with VVPAT — Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail — is the newest system MicroVote has to offer, and was certified by the state last July. The contract between the county and the company is for four years.
Electronic poll books and the VVPATs have been delivered, and McLaughlin said machine cases were expected to be delivered this week. But election officials are still waiting on delivery of the voting machines. MicroVote has said the equipment will be delivered in early February, which will give them ample time to prepare it for the May 5 primary election.
Other changes that are in the works for this year’s elections include additional voting sites, at least 24, McLaughlin said. Nineteen vote centers were used during last year’s municipal elections.
Those vote centers will also be open in the days leading up to Election Day for early voting. Traditionally, the county, as required by law, opens the Johnson County courthouse for early voting in the weeks before an election. This year, the courthouse will be open for 30 days, and some of the vote centers will be open for about two weeks before each Election Day, giving voters ample time to cast their ballots before Election Day.
McLaughlin is also working with Reagan Higdon, first deputy clerk, to secure more vote centers, and said there is a growing need for more voting locations in the Bargersville area. Election officials secured Greenwood Public Library as a new vote center, and will work to nail down the rest in the coming days.
Republican and Democrat candidates have to file to seek office by Feb. 7. The primary election is May 5. The general election is Nov. 3.
If you go
What: Johnson County Board of Commissioners special meeting
When: 10 a.m. today
Where: Council chambers, Johnson County courthouse, west annex, 86 W. Court St., Franklin
Why: To decide whether to lease extra voting machines for the 2020 election