Palm Beach County, FL to Spend $15M on New Voting Machines

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Palm Beach County, Florida’s new election supervisor has sought – and received – $15 million to replace County voting equipment in an effort to move past recent problems that ultimately cost her predecessor her job. The Sun-Sentinel has more:

New voting machines, new ballots, new computers for check-in: Palm Beach County’s voting system is starting from scratch after a November debacle that forced out the supervisor of elections.

The County Commission on Tuesday approved more than $15 million in machinery that new Supervisor of Elections Wendy Sartory Link promised will make voting easier, faster and more efficient.

The purchases include 975 vote scanners, 525 voting machines for people with disabilities, 10 high-speed tabulators, a new voter registration and check-in system and an assortment of other computers, cabinets, wires and printers.

The $15 million is $4 million more than former Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher had requested when she asked for updated equipment. But Link said the higher price was essential to ensure parity with Florida’s other counties.</

“Everything is going to be new,” Link said after speaking to the commission. “We want to run a smooth election.”

The new machines and ballots will be ready for use by the 2020 elections but won’t be available for the election scheduled next month.

The equipment purchase is the latest step in the state and county effort to overhaul Palm Beach elections:

Link has been on the job only two weeks, after Bucher was suspended by new Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The governor said Bucher’s inability to complete three state-mandated recounts for the Nov. 6 election by the deadline sullied the state’s image and made Florida a national embarrassment.

DeSantis’s former secretary of state detailed Bucher’s alleged violations, including her “combative incompetence,” her refusal to allow damaged ballots to be duplicated in the presence of the canvassing board, her placement of a polling station inside a gated community and her submission of an incomplete state-mandated post-election report on problems that occurred.

Link, a West Palm Beach attorney appointed by the governor, has been charged with assuring less eventful elections.

The hope is that the new voting system will not only make voting better and transparent but also less expensive to administer over time:

New ballots will allow voters to color in a circle instead of connecting a broken arrow to select their candidate. This voting style is consistent with the style of other Florida counties, Link said.

New technology will allow voters to track whether their absentee ballot arrived at the elections office with a bar code.

Ballots will be printed on paper that is smaller and thinner, allowing the cost of mailing a ballot to drop from as much as $1.65 to 30 cents, she said. Link said 600,000 pieces of mail go out each election cycle.

County commissioners Robert Weinroth and Gregg Weiss suggested that the county offer postage-paid absentee ballots. But Link said her preliminary research has shown that the free postage does not increase voting rates.

There could also be some staffing increases in Palm Beach, although the new supervisor isn’t yet ready to request them – though she appears to have support from at least one member of the county commission:

Link did not ask for more employees but said Palm Beach County may have one of the worst voter-to-voting staff ratios in the state.

While Palm Beach County has 53 employees in the election office for 937,330 voters, Broward has 77 for 1.2 million voters and Miami-Dade 99 for 1. 4 million.

That translates to one worker for every 14,141 voters in Miami-Dade, one per 15,584 voters in Broward and one per 17,685 voters in Palm Beach County.

Commissioner Melissa McKinlay said she liked the changes recommended by Link.

“I think it will restore a lot of confidence in our voters,” McKinley said.

Of course, the path to a new voting system is never smooth – especially in a county the size of Palm Beach. Indeed, the effort to switch systems often raises questions that can leave voters worried about the voting process, as is the case with any large-scale change to the elections, but the county’s move to get started early in the 2020 cycle is both prudent and clearly the result of a desire to move past a system that didn’t appear to be working. Stay tuned …

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