By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor
County clerks across the state are speaking out against the high cost of a maintenance contract for recently purchased voting machines mandated by the federal government.
A Nebraska firm, ES&S sold the secretary of state machines for every county in the state last year. With the machines now a year old counties, are just now getting bills for maintenance contracts, which the clerks say are budget-breakers.
ES&S is giving the state until next month to negotiate a contract for the maintenance of the machines.
Roosevelt County Clerk Janet Collins said unless things change, her office won’t be picking up the service contracts, which would be roughly five times the amount she has previously budgeted for that service.
“Unless they negotiate a new contract that is reasonable and beneficial to our county, we’re not going to have a maintenance contract on our voting machines,” Collins said.
She said the cost she’s received for the maintenance contract on Roosevelt County’s machines, which includes a software contract, is $15,075 for the 54 machines. She contrasted that with the $3,500 her office paid for software on the old voting machines. On top of that, she said this year’s budget for voting machine repair and maintenance is just $500.
She concludes that the jump of more than $12,000 is a ridiculous amount.
“There is just no reason to pay anybody over $1,000 a month for maintenance,” Collins said.
Coni Jo Lyman, Curry County elections administrator, said she doubts that her office will be accepting the maintenance contract either, but they’ll see what is negotiated.
“We’ve taken the ostrich approach,” Lyman laughed. “We’ve got our head buried in the sand. It’s still a little pricey for us.”
According to Lyman, county policy would prevent her from accepting the contract without special approval anyway as commissioners have directed county departments against entering into any service contracts.
She said the cost of the contract for Curry County’s 84 machines would be $26,000. She said she’s budgeted to handle that but doesn’t see it happening.
Lyman said Curry County’s machines were serviced before the warranty expired by Automated Election Services out of Rio Rancho, so she is confident she won’t have any problems for awhile.
“I’m not scared, I’m a little frustrated about how expensive this company is going to be,” Lyman said.
Collins said that if it came down to it, the county could buy one or two replacement machines every year, at $5,000 each, for less money than the contract. She says she’s not so sure that would ever be necessary, though.
Collins said AES has done repairs for her office in the past and they would be willing to continue to do that if the county opts out of the contract. She said she also has a few backup machines in case problems arise.
Collins said she believes the new machines are going to work well for the county and she has no indication that they’ll be prone to breaking down.
“It’s just a poor use of taxpayer dollars,” Collins said of the maintenance contract.