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Sarasota Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015 5 years ago

County agrees to borrow $1.65 million for new voting equipment

County Commissioners approved the purchase, electing not to give current voting-system vendors a bid to fix or replace current equipment.
by: Jack Short Staff Writer

Sarasota County commissioners, at their Nov. 17 meeting, unanimously approved the purchase of a new voting system without a sealed bid process, after becoming dissatisfied with one of the two certified vendors in Florida.

The county will pay $1.65 million for the system, to be purchased from Election Systems & Software (ES&S). That purchase will be paid for initially by a loan from the Pooled Commercial Paper Loan Program of the Florida Local Government Finance Commission Program, and repaid over seven years from the general fund.

Because there were only two vendors available, one of which had been deemed operationally unacceptable, the county elected not to use a sealed-bid procurement process.

According to Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent, old voting equipment was too fragile to fix, and the November election too close to wait any longer to replace its equipment. Dominion Voting Systems proposed using hot glue to fix components of Sarasota County's current equipment, but several election officials were skeptical it would work.

“You do not implement a new voting system overnight,” Dent said. “We could not take a risk going into a major presidential election year not knowing how much of the equipment was going to break down.”

Jono Miller, who served on the Citizen Oversight Committee on Voting Systems, encouraged commissioners to be diligent in their research in deciding that Dominion, the makers of current voting systems, can’t offer a viable alternative to ES&S, and whether they deserve a bid.

He said, “I think there’s a risk when …  there’s a history of issues with voting systems and procurement there’s a concern of public confidence.”

County Commissioner Christine Robinson said, “Under an ideal situation we would be able to go through the processes and evaluate and take our time. Well, we weren’t dealt that hand. We were dealt the hand where it was a surprise to everyone.”

She said she was satisfied in her decision given that several experts including Dent, officials from the Florida Division of Elections and the Florida Secretary of State, had concerns over whether existing machinery would hold up for the presidential primary and whether a hot-glue gun fix would work.

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