February 28, 2013 12:15 am •
St. Charles County voters will cast ballots in new voting machines when they go to the polls in April 2014.
The County Council voted 6-1 Monday night to spend $1 million for 130 optical scan and 130 disability-capable voting machines from Unisyn Voting Solutions Inc.
County Elections Director Rich Chrismer said he expects the new machines to be delivered by June and that they should last eight to 10 years.
"I'm happy for the voters because I didn't trust the machines we had," Chrismer said Wednesday.
Chrismer has been trying to convince the council for the past year that the machines used during the last seven years are at the end of their life cycle and need to be replaced to avoid trouble at the polls. The council voted 4-1 in February 2012 to buy new machines for $1.2 million, but County Executive Steve Ehlmann vetoed that bill because only one bid had been received, and the council later withdrew the bill.
Councilman Joe Cronin, R-District 1, cast the dissenting vote Monday, saying it would cost just $12,000 to maintain the current machines for the next year and that the county doesn't need to spend $1 million on new ones now.
"The difference between the current machines and the new machines is the way the ballot is read," Cronin said. "I'm not certain we need that for $1 million."
When the new machines are used, voters will still fill in the ovals on paper ballots but will feed the ballots into machines equipped with lasers to count the votes, instead of the infrared lights now used.
Instead of signing in on a paper ledger at their polling place, voters will use an iPad. Chrismer said that will keep people from standing in line based on what letter their last name begins with.
"Even though they're new machines they'll operate exactly like the way they do know," Chrismer said. "Fill in the oval, put the ballot in the machine. There's no learning curve."
Council Chairman Terry Hollander, R-District 5, said the questions the council had about buying new machines last year had been answered and that if the county waited another couple of years, it would lose the grants available to help pay for them. Chrismer has said the county will receive a $129,000 federal grant through the Help America Vote Act of 2012 and a $50,000 voting systems grant from the state.
"The purpose of the delay was to get a second bid, which we got," Hollander said. "The next time around we'll go back to having one bid. The grants that are available now, there's a time limit on those. It's my fear if we reject this, a year or two years from now we'll end up paying more money."