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McLean County looking to spend nearly $1 million for new voting equipment

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McLean County Clerk Kathy Michael and Tim Mitchell, executive director of the Bloomington Election Commission, inspect election equipment on Aug. 31, 2020. 

BLOOMINGTON — McLean County is considering paying nearly $1 million to an Omaha, Nebraska, company for new voting equipment ahead of the 2022 elections.

County Clerk Kathy Michael will recommend the county purchase 162 ballot marking devices from Election Systems & Software for $974,911. A recommendation and presentation are expected to be made at the county’s Dec. 1 Finance Committee meeting.

If the committee approves the bid, the recommendation would move to the executive committee for approval Dec. 13, and if that committee accepts the bid, the full county board would consider the purchase at its Dec. 16 meeting.

Michael told The Pantagraph that “it’s time” that the county acquire new voting machines. The county has owned the current equipment – provided by Governmental Business Systems – for 16 to 17 years.

“The current voting equipment, including optical scanners and touchscreen devices, are approaching their end of life,” Michael wrote in a recommendation to the finance committee. “In addition, security standards have changed significantly since the devices were purchased and updating our equipment will better enable us to align with the Department of Homeland Security’s recommendations, as well as enhance the overall voter experience.”

Training would start in February 

The McLean County clerk’s office was granted about $1.2 million for next year’s budget specifically to purchase new voting equipment. The funding comes from within the roughly $33 million awarded to McLean County in the American Rescue Plan Act that Congress passed in March.

If the McLean County Board passes the recommendation, then the county will finalize a contract with ES&S, which also has a software development office in Rockford.

Training for election judges would then begin in February, and equipment would be installed for the June 28 primary election and Nov. 8 general election.

McLean County Republican Party Chairwoman Connie Beard commended the county clerk’s office for the process in choosing a vendor and for “investing in the vitality and security of our democracy.”

“While we are confident in our officials, we are also pleased to uphold our responsibility in the civic process, along with our colleagues and other civic leaders, by remaining duly attentive of these processes by which the traditions of fair, honest, and well-run elections can be continued in our community,” Beard said.

The clerk’s office held three presentations for each election equipment company’s bid. Republican and Democratic election judges, county board members, the Illinois State University Center for Civic Engagement, the League of Women Voters, and other leaders attended.

The other bids came from California-based Unisyn Voting Solutions for $827,626 and Texas-based Hart InterCivic for about $1.35 million.

40% of Illinois counties 

McLean County Democratic Party Chairman Patrick Cortesi said the two s on the county board who attended the demonstrations liked ES&S’ equipment the most.

“In general terms as Democrats, whatever we can do to make things easier for people to vote is a good thing,” Cortesi told The Pantagraph. “Having newer equipment that voters will feel confident in, will like using – that’s got to be a good thing.”

The new equipment is user friendly for voters and election judges, and ES&S has a strong presence in Illinois, Michael wrote in her recommendation.

ES&S provides ballot machines for 40% of Illinois counties, including Champaign, Sangamon and Woodford counties. It also is the vendor for the Bloomington Election Commission’s voting equipment.

Michael said the new polling machines will print out paper ballots after people cast votes, providing “an extra added sense of security, we think, for the voter,” she said.

“We were getting to the point while we were very happy to have a paper trail (already required) here in Illinois, this is one that’s up to speed with the current times and it’s going to be much easier to read, much easier for the judges and the voters to access,” Michael said.

She added that voter fraud claims in other states during the 2020 election, which led to Arizona and other states purchasing new election equipment, did not expedite the county’s effort to acquire new equipment.

“One thing I want to make very clear is that McLean County has never had any official allegations of voter fraud,” Michael said. “We have always, and I believe BEC has done the same, we’ve encouraged watchdogs, we’ve encouraged transparency, but this happened to coincide with the fact that we had already worked up a plan to take our request to the board anyway before we found out the ARPA funds will pay for it.”

Contact Kade Heather at 309-820-3256. Follow him on Twitter: @kadeheather


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