Estimates from a few years ago put a new system around $800,000. Our cost will be closer to $550,000.
By Kaiti Lenhart
The biggest challenge facing your Elections Office is our current voting system. Our equipment turns 18 years old this year, making the precinct-level tabulators old enough to vote. Florida law requires our ADA accessible equipment be upgraded by the year 2020. The Flagler County Board of County Commissioners recently approved a new voting system at their meeting on
Monday, May 2.
Parts for replacement and repair are becoming harder to find, and as the system continues to age, the technology becomes less compatible. A great example is our current precinct reporting. Results come in from the precincts by fax modem. Analog phone lines are being replaced by digital lines, and many of our precincts cannot modem in results on election night. This equipment must be delivered to the Elections Office for direct upload, causing a delay in results reporting.
We test the phone lines prior to each election to make sure the connection can be made and the 18-year-old modems are working properly; however, they cannot transmit results on a new, digital phone line. The new equipment will transmit results by encrypted wireless modem, making results reporting nearly instant at the close of polls on election night, directly after 7 p.m.
Our current voting system was never designed to last forever. Estimates from a few years ago put a new system around $800,000. With the competitive bid RFP process, our cost will be closer to $550,000. We knew it was going to be expensive, but what can be done to mitigate the cost to our county taxpayers?
Federal grant funding has not been received in the Elections Office since 2010. I have been leading the effort to negotiate with the Department of State to secure federal grant funds to help 13 counties across the state of Florida, including Flagler County, to upgrade their aged voting systems. Over $147,000 is available for Flagler County at a state-level to offset the cost of this purchase.
What seemed impossible two years ago is happening today. The new equipment will be installed next year, and we will be ready for the 2018 gubernatorial election cycle — well ahead of the state deadline — with a new voting system.
Is this a good time in an election year as your new supervisor of elections? I am well aware that no one likes spending tax dollars. As a taxpayer myself, I expect our elected officials to make cost-effective and reasonable decisions. To me, it would be wasteful and irresponsible to wait to apply for political reasons and miss out on this important grant. The Department of State deadline is June 30.
I am a public servant and a mindful steward of your tax dollars. I have returned $50,000 to the Board of County Commissioners from the inherited FY 14-15 budget and saved over $6,500 on the cost of printed ballots during the last election with Ballot On Demand technology during early voting.
It is essential for the integrity of the Elections Office that the Supervisor of Elections remains completely nonpartisan to work towards what is in the best interest of voters of Flagler County. We are facing a state mandate to upgrade and voters deserve a reliable voting system at the best price. I am proud of this important accomplishment for the voters of Flagler County. Your vote counts!
Kaiti Lenhart is the Flagler County Supervisor of Elections.