OTTUMWA — Wapello County has 22 new voting machines on the way, and the equipment could speed results on election night.
The 22 new machines have modems included. That’s not new, said Auditor Kelly Spurgeon, but the county never used the modems on the current machines. She hopes to get the system set up with this purchase. That could mean getting the results faster on election night.
“If we used the modems to get the results we could have them by like 9:15 p.m.,” she said.
The wireless results would be unofficial, but that’s not really different from the results the county reports on election night now. The official results are part of the final canvas of the election several days later.
The county may save some money with the new machines. Spurgeon said they can print ballots on the spot, which means the county may not have to print ballots ahead of time for smaller elections and risk having the cost of unused ballots.
The move to purchase the machines is pre-emptive. There have not been any problems with the current equipment, but Spurgeon said she doesn’t “want to get to a point where we have a [failure]” on election day.
Keeping equipment up to date also serves as a way to keep the technology current. Election security is a significant concern nationally, though the reasons vary. There is evidence that attempts were made to hack into state voter rolls prior to the 2016 elections. Concerns have been raised about whether the voting systems could be vulnerable to manipulation of results, though there has been no evidence brought forward that has happened.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly said voter fraud — people improperly casting ballots — cost him the popular vote. He has not provided evidence to back up that claim.
Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate has downplayed concerns about fraudulent ballots, saying that while Iowa uses electronic devices to count votes the state always has paper ballots to back them up. That allows election officials to go back to hand counts if there are problems with the count.
That remains true with the new equipment. The machines are digital image scanners with an internal battery backup and a ballot box. People will still fill out a ballot by hand, and election officials will still have access to those if questions arise.
The $162,397 price tag isn’t small, but Supervisor Brian Morgan said it’s a cost worth paying.
“It’s going to be quite a bit of savings just to pay for it all at once,” he said.