The Ohio House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday that could give the secretary of state the authority to request up to $114.5 million in state funds to upgrade out-of-date and deteriorating voting equipment in Ohio. The bill passed unanimously by a vote of 87-0.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted said the House’s passage of Senate Bill 135 allows Ohio to purchase and update its “election technology well ahead of the 2020 Presidential Election.”
“I commend Speaker (Ryan) Smith for making this measure a priority and bringing it before the chamber for a vote. I’m hopeful the Senate will soon concur with House changes and quickly send the bill to the Governor’s desk,” Husted states in a June 7 press release. “We’ve worked hard in recent years to make Ohio a national leader in elections administration, and the purchase of new voting machines across all 88 counties will help us to continue that effort.”
State Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Hudson, sponsor of the bill, said he is “thankful for the overwhelming bipartisan support from both the House and Senate during the process” in passing the bill.
“They saw, as I did, that we must be proactive in modernizing and protecting the infrastructure of our democratic process,” he said about the bipartisan support.
The bill was co-sponsored by both Delaware County state representatives Rick Carfagna, R-Genoa Township (68th District) and Andrew Brenner, R-Powell (67th District).
Senate Bill 135 was passed by the Ohio Senate April 11, with a vote of 32-1. The single dissenting vote was cast by Sen. Kris Jordan, R-Ostrander.
The bill authorizes the secretary of state the ability to request up to $104.5 million in funds from the state’s Office of Budget and Management to reimburse counties for the purchase of election equipment.
The bill’s formula for allocations to the counties is as follows: 0-19,999 registered voters will be given the base amount of $205,000; those with 20,000-99,999 registered voters will be given the base amount of $250,000; counties with 100,000 or more registered voters will be given $406,000.
According to the Ohio Legislative Service Commission’s Bill Analysis, once the base allocations are distributed among the counties, the remainder of the $104.5 million is to be divided up by the secretary of state and distributed to the counties.
The analysis gives the example, “If the secretary disbursed $30 million to counties in the form of base allocations, the Secretary could divide the remaining $74.5 million in authorized obligation proceeds by the number of registered voters in the state as of July 1, 2017, to determine a per-voter amount. The Secretary then could allocate an amount to each county equal to the number of registered voters in the county times the per-voter amount.”
The bill also allows the appropriation of up to $10 million from the state’s general revenue fund for reimbursement to counties who had purchased or leased equipment after Jan. 1, 2014, and doesn’t exceed the county’s set allocation.
According to Karla Herron, Delaware County Board of Elections director, there are currently 138,000 registered voters in the county, which would allow a base allotment of $406,000 for the purchase of new machines in Delaware County.
Herron estimates that the cost to replace the board’s machines will be $4 million. She said the board is looking at two companies approved by the state to purchase machines from.
“Both voting machine companies said they will offer the best and lowest price across the board,” she said. “The companies we are looking at are Election Systems and Software, and RBM who have a hybrid touch screen close to what we currently have.”
Herron said there has been a lot of work put in over the last five years in looking at upgrading the county’s machines. She said concerns have grown over the current machines that were “deployed during the 2006 midterm primary elections.”
“There are points of failure starting to happen,” she reported to the board of elections in May 2017. “They’re not making the current machines, and we can only get refurbished machines.”
Herron said the machines were purchased with federal dollars through the Help America Vote Act in 2005 at a cost of $115 million and that the board has plans to replace all of the old machines.
The bill will now be returned to the Ohio Senate for a concurrence vote before going to the governor to be signed into law.
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.