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State, Counties Look To Replace Aging Election Equipment

Susan Burk, Townsquare Media
Susan Burk, Townsquare Media

State and county officials have formed a task force to begin the replacement of aging election equipment, according to a news release Monday.

“Wyoming’s elections are accurate, fair, and free from any interference,” Teton County Clerk Sherry Daigle said.

“Unfortunately, the voting equipment used in Wyoming’s 23 counties is nearing the end of its lifespan, and it is of paramount importance that our voting systems be unfailingly reliable,” Daigle said.

Natrona County Clerk Renea Vitto said the voting machines here are in good shape, but the federal government mandates the states to upgrade every 10 years.

“So here we are with aging voting equipment, but the question is, how do we pay for it,” Vitto said.

Most of the equipment that would be replaced is what voters see at the polling places — the regular machines and those for the handicapped that take and reads ballots, she said.

The county also has other computer equipment to read the electronic cards from the polling places. Natrona County also has a machine that counts the ballots and that would not need to be replaced, Vitto said.

Other options besides voting machines would be voting by mail, and that would require a lot of public meetings at town halls to educate the electorate, she said.

The trend in voting machines is toward touch screens, with the addition of a paper ballot backup.

Likewise, there’s a greater trend toward digital systems, with younger voters wanting the  county to send applications with ballots to cell phones so they don’t need to go to a polling place, Vitto said.

That would be a bad idea, she said.

“We can’t of course, and we don’t want to do that because right now” Vitto said. “It’s over the internet and your security’s gone, and I am not willing to go that direction. It makes me very uncomfortable, as it does our IT Department, which makes me very happy. They’re really into security, which helps.”

The county clerks are willing to hold town meetings to learn what the public wants, and how the public would like to pay for it, she said.

The federal government would like states to be in compliance by 2020, so the states would need to have something in place by mid-2019, Vitto said.

The task force is working with compliance in mind.

The task force — Plan for Aging Voting Equipment, or PAVE — primarily will look at the type of election equipment needed and how to pay for for it.

PAVE members include county officials, legislators, and representatives of the Secretary of State’s Office who will determine how best to identify, acquire, and pay to replace Wyoming’s outdated election equipment.

“The election process, and the delivery of elections, is a matter of state sovereignty. The Task Force understands the gravity of this undertaking,” Secretary of State Ed Murray said.

These are the members:

  • County Clerks: Daigle and Sublette County Clerk Mary Lankford.
  • County Commissioner: Park County Commissioner Jake Fulkerson.
  • Legislators: Sen. Tara Nethercott (R-Cheyenne) and Rep. Bob Nicholas (R-Cheyenne).
  • Secretary of State’s Office: Karen Wheeler, Deputy Secretary of State; Kai Schon, State Election Director; and Andrea Byrne, Technology Director.
  • Ex-Officio members: Murray; and Joint Corporations, Elections, and Political Subdivisions Co-Chairmen Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander) and Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R-Cheyenne).

The task force met for an organizational meeting in October and will meet as needed during 2018.

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