Whether voters mark a ballot by hand or use a touch screen, at some point a voting machine is involved in the voting process in Pratt County.
Like any machine, they will eventually wear out and have to be either repaired or replaced.
In a recent Associated Press story taken from the Kansas City Star, the cost of replacing those machines in Jackson County, Mo. and Johnson County, Kan. was estimated between $10 million to $20 million and that far exceeds what the Legislature has set aside for replacement costs. Johnson County has 2,400 touch screen voting machines.
Pratt County has a much smaller inventory than those two counties but county elections depend on those machines just as much as those counties with vastly larger populations.
The county has four touch screen voting machines and four optiscan paper ballot readers. The touch screen records the voter’s selections as they press the voting areas on the screen.
The optiscan ballot reader scans and records choices as the paper ballot goes through the machine.
Since the machines are only used a couple of times during election years for primary and general elections, they don’t get a lot of use.
To keep the machines in good working order, they are sent to Adkins every year for maintenance, said Pratt County Clerk Sherry Kruse.
The touch screens cost $2,800 apiece and the optiscans are $4,800 and were purchased in 2006. When those machines were purchased, there was federal funding available following the infamous “hanging chad” incident in Florida that delayed national election results in 2000. Funding came from the Help America Vote Act.
Hanging chad are very small pieces of paper created when the instrument used to poke a ballot fails to completely remove the paper and it is still attached to the ballot.
With touch screen or optiscan machines, this type of problem is avoided.
So far, the county has had no problems with the current machines. Sending the machines out for servicing every year has kept them in good condition. The county has stayed with Adkins because they haven’t hand any operation issues with the machines.
In the event a machine needs to be replaced, the county has money already earmarked in the special equipment fund.
While replacing voting machines is not an issue right now in Pratt County, machines are getting older across the country and will eventually have to be replaced.
If Congress is unable or unwilling to provide funding, it will be up to county governments across the country to dedicate money for replacement equipment as it ages.
If machines begin to malfunction, it could result in incorrect voting results in upcoming elections.