Secretary of the State (SOTS), Stephanie Thomas, testified in front of the General Obligation Bonding Subcommittee on Monday (April 10) requesting $25 million in bonding to replace 20-year-old ballot tabulators statewide.
According to Sec. Thomas over the past five years tabulators — a scanning machine that records votes — have become “unreliable and unserviceable.”
The tabulator technology is dated and there are frequent issues with tabulators getting jammed if ballots have any moisture on them when they’re put into the machine. Parts have also been known to melt due to high heat. Secretary Thomas recalled that in her own election in 2018 results from one polling place were delayed due to wet ballots seizing up machines resulting in officials having to do a manual count.
Thomas said “If you speak to town clerks and registrars of voters, they are well aware of how these machines are failing at a regular clip in different ways. Just because of how long they’ve been in use.”
She went on to say, “This is no way for us to run our elections.”
The company that produces these machines has gone out of business resulting in a lack of replacements. The state has tried purchasing old machines from other places and has gone so far as to bid on them on eBay.
The state’s current plan is to purchase 3000 new machines, along with secure ballot boxes. This would also require the purchase of additional ink cartridges, software licensing, delivery and installation. The office is also proposing the purchase of 10 high-speed and 30 medium-speed tabulating machines to assist with the end-of-the-night counting of absentee ballots on election day.
The high-speed machines will enable municipalities to quickly process large stacks of ballots as well as enable them to handle absentee ballots that are folded when received by the town clerk —clerks currently experience issues with machines jamming when they are fed with folded paper.
The new machines will also be able to accommodate rank-choice voting — should it ever get passed by the legislature. Unfortunately, they do not have the ability to cross-check signatures on absentee ballots.
169 towns currently operate 750 polling places, and they are required per statute, to have a backup for each machine in case of a failure. All towns will receive new tabulators, whether they require them or not, and will all be using the same operating platform under Sec. Thomas’ proposal.
The agency is in the process of writing a request for proposal, or a bid solicitation, to send to the five major manufacturers that are authorized by the federal government to sell these machines. Sec. Thomas suggested that once bids are received the machines be brought to Hartford so that legislators, registrars and town clerks can see them first-hand before a final decision is made.
SOTS Chief of Staff Gabe Rosenberg predicts the machines will be ready for the 2024 general election.