Convinced that problems with the new electronic voting machines have been resolved, Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker told county commissioners that he is ready to sign the papers and cut the check to vendor ES&S.
Payment on the $10.6 million system is expected to go through as soon as the county legal and tech departments give it the final okay, Metsker said.
Metsker said his office is satisfied that the problems that slowed the vote reporting software to a crawl in the August primary have been successfully addressed. The coding problem that led to hours of delay in reporting vote totals was fixed for the general election, and equipment worked well even with an unusually high turnout, he said.
“We’ve all been very traumatized by the difficulty,” Metsker said. “To have a good outcome meant we had no bad media or negative comments within the community and we’re on our way to a successful recovery.”
An uncomfortable spotlight was on the county after the primary because its national debut of a new version of the voting and tabulation machines was the second failure of ES&S equipment in a major election. In 2016, election officials were unable to release vote totals until the next day because of a different system breakdown on the old and outdated equipment. Johnson County bought the new machines to improve on that and because they provide a paper record for each vote.
When the county once again couldn’t report out vote totals on the August primary night, officials said they’d withhold payment to ES&S until they could be sure the system worked properly. To date, the county has paid $45,234 for related computer hardware.
Voting participation in the mid-term election approached numbers for presidential years, Metsker said. Some 273,000 ballots were cast this November, compared to 298,000 in the 2016 presidential election. And voter registration is at a historic high in Johnson County with over 400,000 on the rolls, he said.
Having the system work as expected last month was enough of a relief that Metsker took a moment to “pause to give a big smile,” during his report. The county will have an annual maintenance agreement with ES&S for updates and fixes that will be necessary as technology changes, he said. “The path forward for continued success is clear and agreed upon by both parties.”
Commissioners were congratulatory. “What happened on primary night was a major disappointment to everybody involved,” said Chairman Ed Eilert, who went on to praise the efforts of the county and the corporation to work things out.
Commissioner Steve Klika said he hoped the county would be prompt with its payment. “I’d hate to see our vendors hanging loose when they’ve achieved their goal,” he said.
Metsker said he expected voter interest to remain high in upcoming elections and will continue to promote advance voting. About 55 percent of people who voted in the last election were advance voters, down a bit from the 61 percent in 2016, he said.
The election office will also consider adding a seventh advance voting location next year to be ready for a large turnout in 2020, he said.