With 3.5 weeks until election, Johnson County gets certification for update to voting machine software that caused reporting delays in August

Johnson County’s new ExpressVote system had major reporting problems during the primary.

Officials have signed off on a patched version of the software program that will power Johnson County’s voting system next month.

The question is, will it work?

A month and a half after the company announced it had rewritten the portion of its software program that led to massive reporting delays in the August primary elections, Election Systems & Software has received federal and state certification for the software’s use in the Nov. 6 general election, Johnson County announced today.

ES&S submitted the corrected software program to the Election Assistance Commission for review on Sept. 5 and received notice of certification on Oct. 4. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office announced today that it was granting state certification to the system as well.

The rollout of the county’s new $10.5 million ExpressVote system was marred by the software error, which prevented the Election Office from producing final results until 13 hours after polls closed. The specific combination of ExpressVote machines and software fielded by Johnson County in August had not been used in a live election anywhere else in the country.

Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker stood by the company publicly after the debacle, but emails made available through a public records request by reporter Roxie Hammill on assignment for The Pitch revealed that his patience with ES&S was wearing thin.

“We cannot have any more failures. This is not acceptable … Seriously I have been extremely patient…[ellipses his] but that long-suffering patience is running out, because ES&S products are not performing as promised,” Metsker wrote to an ES&S account manager. “We are no longer a local story that should have never happened, now we are a national focus. We are being eaten alive in the media.”

The botched roll out of the new machines combined with the long reporting delays out of Johnson County in November 2016 prompted the Kansas City Star’s editorial board to call for Metsker’s resignation — a suggestion that drew sharp rebukes from members of the county commission. County Commissioner Mike Brown called the piece “reckless and irresponsible” at the time. County commissioners pointed out that a provision in the contract allows the county to withhold payment for the system until it is satisfied with the product. No significant payments have been made to ES&S for the system to date.

The board of county commissioners unanimously approved awarding the voting system contract to ES&S in May a week after Metsker announced he was recommending the ExpressVote system for purchase. A competing firm lodged a formal complaint at the time saying that the county was likely overspending and may not be getting the latest technology because it was making its purchasing decision off a request for proposal that was three years old.

In a news release issued today, the county noted that “The updated software was independently tested during the federal and state certification processes, but extensive testing was also conducted at ES&S headquarters in Omaha and the Election Office in Olathe.”

“We were able to upload and report results quickly in every scenario,” Metsker said. “Successful testing on our equipment in our office was a priority for us because that was the only way we could ensure our voters and taxpayers that they can expect timely election results in November.”