Ben­ton County of­fi­cials back new vot­ing ma­chines

Westside Eagle-Observer - - NEWS - By Tom Sis­som tsis­som@nwadg.com

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.

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