Virginia's governor pitches $28M voting machine upgrade

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After voting machine problems riddled the 2014 general election in Virginia, Gov. Terry McAuliffe is initiating measures to upgrade the commonwealth’s voting systems.

McAuliffe is proposing a $28 million investment in Virginia Public Building Authority bonds aimed at replacing aging voting equipment that led to uncertainty over polling results.

“Participating in our democracy is one of the most important rights we have as citizens of this Commonwealth and country,” McAuliffe said in a release. “However, we cannot expect Virginians to come to the polls on Election Day if we cannot ensure that their votes will be counted correctly and in a timely manner.”

Currently, the commonwealth uses some Direct Recording Electronic Systems, or DREs, which digitally record a voter’s choice on an internal computer memory device instead of with a verified paper trail. Some areas of the state also still operate solely on paper ballots, while other areas employ a mix of the two options.

McAuliffe said the commonwealth would use the $28 million to acquire “uniform, state-of-the-art equipment” in time for the November 2015 elections if the plan were to proceed.

Under McAuliffe’s plan, every locality would use the same equipment. Currently, localities must purchase and maintain their own voting machines, according to the release. The governor now aims to cover the entire cost of purchasing the new equipment for the commonwealth’s 2,166 precincts. In the case of the 401 precincts that have already purchased an approved machine, the state would reimburse the localities.

The announcement comes just days before the governor is due to meet with the Virginia Legislature to brief the relevant committees on his budget from July 1, 2014, to June 30, 2016. Virginia is one of 19 states that operate on a biennial budgeting model.

The new voting machines would be equipped with digital-scan voting technology that would be backed up on paper trails.

The move to upgrade Virginia’s voting technology comes after 49 Virginia localities reported equipment issues on general Election Day 2014. According to a Nov. 4 release from the Department of Elections, Virginia Beach and Newport News experienced technical difficulties with their AccuVote TSX Touch Screen voting machines. Some voters reported they voted for the wrong candidates as a result of the problems. Though, voters did have the chance to review their ballots before submitting them.

“The problems Virginia encountered on Election Day this year were unacceptable, which is why I have taken unprecedented steps to replace all legacy voting equipment in the Commonwealth with state-of-the-art machines that have paper trails and will update our Department of Elections website,” McAuliffe said in the release.

The new investments wouldn’t just update old systems, but will also increase transparency, suggested Elections Department Commissioner Edgardo Cortes, in a statement.

“This investment will increase transparency and accountability in our election processes,” Cortes said. “It will also reduce inefficiencies by allowing the Department of Elections to provide uniform training to all election officials, volunteers and monitors since all localities will have the same voting technology.”

As part of the plan, the state would allocate $1.7 million of the $28 million toward updating Virginia’s electronic pollbooks — or an electronic list of all of the eligible voters in the district or precinct. McAuliffe also would commit $30,000 per fiscal year in his budget to update the Election Department website “to ensure reliable reporting for future elections.”

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Edgardo Cortes, Innovation, State & Local News, States, Terry McAuliffe, Virginia, Virginia Department of Elections
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