Benton County officials back new voting machines
BENTONVILLE — Benton County’s justices of the peace agreed Thursday to buy electronic voting equipment instead of going to paper ballots.
The Finance Committee agreed to put a proposal to spend $2.6 million for the new equipment on the agenda for the panel’s October meeting. The committee discussed options of buying some of the equipment for 2018 and then more to use in 2020, the next presidential election year, or buying all of the needed equipment up front. The justices of the peace also considered paying cash for the equipment instead of paying it out over a period of years.
Tom Allen, justice of the peace for District 4 and committee chairman, said he favors buying all of the equipment at one time to avoid the chance of any price increase and finance the purchase.
‘It’s short-sighted to me to buy some now and roll the dice that the costs won’t go up,” Allen said. “That’s the direction I’d like to see us go. Buy it all, and I’d like to see us finance it.”
Mike McKenzie, justice of the peace for District 1, agreed the county should buy all the needed equipment at once.
“The price is going to do nothing but go up,” he said.
Kim Dennison, election coordinator, briefed the justices of the peace on options of buying new equipment or going back to paper ballots. Dennison said paper ballots would cost about $400,000 for the 2018 election year. Dennison said she needs to have a decision by Nov. 1 so she can prepare for next year’s elections.
Brenda Guenther, comptroller, said the county has received estimates on financing voting machines over three to five years with payments of about $470,000 for the first year. McKenzie said he couldn’t support paying for paper ballots when the county could acquire new equipment for about the same cost.
“We’ve got to do something if it costs half a million dollars for paper ballots every time we do an election,” McKenzie said. “If we buy new equipment we’ll be spending the same amount of money.”
J.D. Hayes, justice of the peace for District 3, said the county needs to consider maintenance costs on the new equipment as part of the overall cost. Dennison said the state has agreed to pay for maintenance contracts on any new equipment the county buys now but has made no pledge that money will be available in the future. She said the maintenance agreements cost $125 annually for each of the machines. Dennison said the county needs 475 of the new voting machines.
“Over 10 years, that’s $600,000 in savings,” Hayes said.
Joel Edwards, justice of the peace for District 15, said the county should move ahead on buying all of the needed equipment and not delay while waiting to see if the state will pay part of the cost.
“There may be a temptation to buy a certain percentage now and wait to see what happens,” Edwards said. “I think there’s no way the state is going to give up that money. I think they see this as a county issue. It would be a mistake on our part to assume or even hope that next year there’s going to be state money available.”
Pat Adams, justice of the peace for District 6, said he favors buying all the needed equipment but paying for it out of county reserve.